Dan Buettner’s groundbreaking research on longevity has changed our understanding of what leads to a long, happy life. Starting with his 2005 National Geographic
cover story, “The Secrets of Long Life,” Dan has allowed us to accompany him on a journey of discovery into the Blue Zones where the world’s happiest and oldest populations thrive.With his new book, The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons from the World’s Happiest People
, Dan explains how to implement the Blues Zones mindset into your everyday world.
LIVE HAPPY: What new insight will we gain from The Blue Zones of Happiness?
DAN BUETTNER: That the organizing principle of longevity has less to do with modifying your behavior than with modifying your environment. None of these spry centenarians living in the Blue Zones said, “I’m going to diet and exercise and take supplements so I can live a long life.” But what they did was live in an environment that nudged them to movement and social connections. No matter where you are in the world, that is the underpinning of longevity. And the same is true of happiness.
LH: What does the Blue Zones mindset teach us about happiness?
DB: There’s a lot of information out there about changing habits to become happier, but the problem is those strategies tend not to work in the long term—and most people want to be happy for a long time! We found the statistically happiest places on the planet and then dissected the anatomy of those places that are not only producing the happiest people, but also the longest-living. Once you can identify all those facets, then you can see how to set up your life to be happy.
LH: If you are unhappy with your current situation, what is the most important thing you can do?
Pack up and move! It sounds simplistic, but it’s been demonstrated statistically and in real life. There are things you can do—like picking a neighborhood where you can have friendships and walk to the grocery store and create an environment where you run into people enough that friendships combust out of those spontaneous interactions. You are more likely to be happy in a place where you have social connectivity; about the only thing that works for everyone is social connections. So, there are things you can do to stack the deck in favor of happiness.
LH: Your book offers ways to bring a Blue Zones environment into all facets of our lives, from the workplace to our finances. What changes will we see when we start implementing some of these practices?
DB: It’s subtle. In the financial realm, for example, as we realize that financial security is more powerful than consumption, we gradually shift how we spend our money. It shifts from buying “things” to paying down debt or buying insurance, and as a result, you sleep better, so you feel better. You stop worrying about what happens if something goes wrong, because you feel more secure.
LH: What’s the No. 1 thing you want readers to take away from your book?
DB: That the path to a happier life is via an environmental change rather than simply a behavioral one. There’s a lot of emerging literature showing that environmental changes are what will make you happier in the long run. And now we have valid science that shows us what we can do to shape our environment for happiness.
Listen to our podcast with Dan Buettner:
Read more: Ikigai: The Secret to a Long and Happy Life
Read more: Fort Worth Kicks Off Blue Zone Initiative
Paula Felps is the Science Editor for Live Happy.