Book Review: "Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way" by Dan Buettner
The pursuit of happiness is guaranteed under the Constitution, and we the people chase it with a vengeance: we work for the weekend, we read self-help books, we take antidepressants and undergo therapy. But the desire to be happy long predates the creation of our own country. As 14th century poet Hafiz noted, “When all your desires are distilled/You will cast just two votes: To love more. And be happy.” That being said, relatively few people seem to have a grasp of what that really means - what happiness actually is and what we can do to get it. Frequently, we seem to focus on what we are UNhappy about, trying to reduce the effects, rather than having a good handle on effective ways actively to enhance our happiness.
Perhaps one reason we are not as versed in how to make ourselves happier is that it turns out happiness, according to author Dan Buettner, is a fairly complicated concept, affected by numerous influences that have an impact on our subjective experience of it. In his book Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way, Buettner pursued an understanding of what makes people happy using the methodology he employed in previous work to identify influences on longevity. In this other work, he discovered geographic locations that seemed to enhance the length and quality of the residents’ lives, locations he described as “blue zones.” In Thrive, Buettner applies a similar methodology to the study of happiness, asking “Are there places around the globe that nurture happiness the same way that the Blue Zones nurture longevity? If there are, what can we learn from these places to increase our own happiness in the same way that we’ve learned lessons about long life from the world’s centenarians?”
Buettner’s investigation takes him to four locations throughout the world: the Jutland Peninsula of Denmark, Singapore, Nuevo Leon in Mexico, and San Luis Obispo, California, which researchers have identified as “leaders in happiness.” In an attempt to unlock the secrets to happiness each of these distinctly different geographic locations holds, he interviews with national officials, “ordinary” citizens, and notable figures in each location, focusing on “the remarkable people who rank themselves as very happy…and who also believe that they will be happier in the next five years - an optimistic condition that researchers describe as thriving.”
After his extensive investigations, Buettner abstracts some general takeaways from each geographic region. These include, but are not limited to, things like the importance of an environment of trust, caring for family and social connectedness, economic and status equality, and a sense of freedom. For individuals looking for guidance about how to make changes in their own lives, the prognosis is positive. Buettner claims, “Genuinely happy people do not just sit around being content. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings. We can also learn from others. If an unhappy person wants to experience interest, enthusiasm, contentment, peace, and joy, he or she can make it happen by learning the habits of a happy person.”
Ultimately, then, perhaps happiness is not so complex after all. Perhaps with effort, assistance, and just a bit of research data, we can channel our efforts more effectively and realize our legacy.
"Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way" is available for $10.17 at Amazon.com.
What makes YOU happy? Do you know? Has the answer changed over time, or does it surprise you at all? Post your observations to comments.