Many of us have traveled on vacation to a lovely place where we felt happy and carefree. We think, “This place is so wonderful! If I could just stay here forever I would be happy”. Is it possible that this is true?
Could moving somewhere else be enough to make me happy?
Is the secret to happiness actually location, location, location?
Last month’s release of The Blue Zones of Happiness, by Dan Buettner, and this month’s cover article in National Geographic, “These Are The World’s Happiest Places”, by the same author, have sparked an international conversation about the effect of location on happiness.
The author tells us there are three major components of happiness: 1. Day-to-day pleasure; 2. Purpose or meaning; and 3. Life satisfaction.
Buettner then describes the lives of three different people that illustrate how their different countries embody these ideals. Costa Rica, where the pura vida ethos leads to day-to-day pleasure, Denmark, where the government supports the population in finding lives of meaning and purpose, and Singapore, where a majority of citizens score high on life satisfaction.
Costa Rica enjoys economic parity, with education, health care, and retirement taken care of by the government. Even though their income is low, Costa Ricans are free to enjoy much of their time with family and friends- a strong value in their society.
The government of Denmark also provides health care, education, and retirement benefits to its citizens, who are thus free to choose a job that has meaning to them, even if the pay is not high. Danes also use their plentiful free time to engage in hobbies and clubs, and they take an average of 5 weeks of vacation a year.
Citizens of Singapore are influenced by a culture that inspires them to succeed financially, and there is plenty of support to do so. Though their country is made up of ethnic Chinese, Malays, and Indians, the national language is English, one of the many ways that the government ensures that no one ethnicity is dominant over another. Prosperity is available to all, and many take advantage of the myriad opportunities to succeed.
So what if we don’t happen to be citizens of Costa Rica, Denmark, or Singapore?
What If You Don't Live In One of The Blue Zones of Happiness?
How can we use what we learn from these examples to increase our own personal happiness here in the United States?
Here are some of the ways the author suggests that you can adapt the lessons from the Blue Zone countries to increase your own personal happiness, without moving to another city, town, or country.
10 Ways You Can Be Happier Right Where You Are:
1. Develop daily and weekly social rituals.
The happiest people spend 5-6 hours a day socializing. That’s right, five to six hours! This is a far cry from the 40 minutes a day the average American spends socializing with friends and family. Time spent on social media doesn’t count!
Ways you can increase your time socializing: Host a potluck or have everyone cook together to take the pressure off of the host; Invite friends over every week to watch your favorite sports team; pass up the temptation to have lunch at your desk and eat lunch together with your co-workers. You can join clubs, local sports teams, mommy and me groups, and faith-based groups. Sign up for a meet-up group; take a yoga class; join a local political organization.
2. Establish weekly family rituals and ongoing family traditions.
Costa Ricans traditionally gather for meals with their extended families on Saturday or Sunday. This is a tradition you can adopt wherever you live. Family members may be slow to join in, but as time goes on everyone develops the habit, and studies show that this leads to increased happiness for all.
Danish families empower their children from a young age. Kids have a say in family decisions, and are responsible for family duties and chores.
If you are far away from family, start a weekly gathering with close friends who are also far from family– everyone benefits!
3. Eat 6 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
Yup, you’ve heard this before, probably from your doctor. Research shows that this habit will not only make you healthier, but also happier. Who knew?
4. Work less.
It’s easy these days to get on the career treadmill where more work seems to provide more benefit– more money, more status, maybe a promotion– but in the happiest places people tend to work less than 40 hours a week, and take six weeks of vacation a year.
This is a tough one for many, but it’s worth examining whether it’s possible to reduce some of your luxuries in order to have more time for family, hobbies, vacation, and other things that make life interesting and meaningful for you.
The Danes, for example, have far fewer things than Americans do, and they spend a lot more time doing what interests and engages them. They often shop for months before finally deciding on a purchase. This is partly what the popular decluttering movement is all about.
Be careful not to make the mistake of thinking that more work = more money = more happiness. Studies show that after they make enough to pay the necessities, people do not actually become happier with more money.
5. Move your body.
You are most likely to stick with exercise if you can incorporate it into your daily routine. One way to do this– leave the car at home, and ride your bike.
Bicycling to work, school and the store will improve your health and lower your stress. It’s also cheaper and better for the environment. A real win-win. This is possible even in Los Angeles- and even if your work is too far away, you can still bike to the store or to run errands.
If you are interested in trying out a sport or a class, these are great ways to stay active, but you can also just take a regular walk after work or dinner to increase both your health and your happiness. They key is to be consistent, so don't make the goal too tough to attain.
6. Practice your faith.
Being part of a faith community can provide comraderie, meaning, and support. If you are interested but not practicing, try out some different communities to see what works for you.
If faith-based activities are not for you, what about joining a local activist group, or becoming involved with your political party? Find your tribe.
7. Get good healthcare.
Singapore has an excellent healthcare system, but like our system in America, it’s not free. Nonetheless, people there don’t hesitate to buy good health insurance policies.
Prioritizing good health insurance over other expenses can not only keep you healthier, but also reduce a considerable amount of stress over possible health issues that you or your dependents might have in the future. Worrying about the future is a serious impediment to happiness.
This suggestion also incorporates some of the above ideas– you can volunteer to find your tribe, socialize, and even create a tradition of volunteering with your family. This not only strengthens family ties, but also sets an excellent example for your children.
Volunteer your time, and donate money to causes you believe in. Research shows that giving away money can make you happier than spending it on yourself. (Unless, of course, you are using it to buy fruits and vegetables!)
9. Take your time in school.
Danes often don’t finish college until they are 30; they take time off to travel and explore careers. In America, this behavior can be characterized by some as laziness, and is often alarming to parents and friends. But, Millennials take note: Dan Buettner tells us, “…among the happiest Danes are those in their late 20’s and 30’s who are in the marriage market and transitioning from school to their first job”.
I can tell you from the many clients I have worked with in this age group, that this is not the case here in Southern California. In my experience, 20- and 30-somethings in the U.S. are struggling mightily to find their way. They are often confused, depressed, isolated and stressed out. Maybe Denmark has something to teach us about this important phase of life. Let's all encourage our kids to take their time, and trust that they will find their way.
10. Prioritize Trust.
Dan Buettner tells us that “Trust is a stronger predictor of a nation’s happiness than any other factor except GDP”. Wow.
So what if we don’t particularly trust our government? What if every day brings some new development in our political landscape and our culture that scares us deeply?
We can still bring trust into our lives by making it a priority when we choose the people we deal with on a regular basis. This is more important now than ever. Choose trustworthy people to associate with professionally and personally over other considerations. And be trustworthy yourself- be punctual and act with integrity.
And Here’s a Surprising Bonus Suggestion:
11. Create a Hygge Room.
Hygge is a Danish word which translates roughly to “coziness”– “the feeling you get when you tuck in around a candlelit table with good drinks, friends, and conversation.”
Designate a room or a place in your house that is just for books, hobbies and games- no tv or other electronics. Make sure there is a big table or some cozy sofas– enough to fit everyone in your family. Light some candles, play some games, and enjoy the conversation with friends and family.
Need A Little Extra Help Getting Happy?
When you’ve tried everything you can think of, and you still struggle with anxiety, depression, or relationships with your loved ones, therapy can be a great option. Feel free to contact me for a free consultation about how therapy can help you with your specific concerns. If I can’t help, I will help you find someone who can!