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What makes a person “happy”? And how does one define “happiness”? At Experience Life, happiness is a topic we consistently explore, research, and pursue in our own lives — all in an effort to help unveil the possible paths to help you achieve this state of mind, too. In 2011, we reviewed four of the happiest places in the world — Denmark; Singapore; Nuevo León, Mexico; and San Luis Obispo, California — deemed “Blue Zones” by National Geographic explorer and author Dan Buettner. While the places may not look very similar in climate, language, or proximity, we unveiled characteristics that united their inhabitants as some of the happiness in the world.

So what do we mean by “happy”? Most often, we tie joy to specific moments and high points in life. Buettner encourages us to think differently about how we define happiness in our lives. His philosophy, to “live happiness,” is derived from the ordinary, everyday acts of life like noticing the trees as you walk in the woods, feeling safe on the street at night, and enjoying your job. Although the prize-winning moments of life can cause happiness, too, he argues that they don’t resonate and sustain overall life satisfaction.

As Buettner notes in our piece, his hope is for us to start looking for a prolonged kind of happiness in the right places, taking cues from the everyday habits and attitudes of happy people around the world — specifically, from those living in the Blue Zones.

Here’s what we can glean from these happy places, according to Buettner’s research.

1. Denmark: Cultivate Quality Time

Over the past 35 years, Americans have increased their average income by 20 percent and doubled the size of their homes since 1950. Yet, as a whole, the nation doesn’t report being more fulfilled, according to Buettner’s findings. He notes that Denmark is a great real-life case against the belief that more money = a better life. So what is Denmark doing right?

In large part, Buettner attributes their happiness to cultivating meaningful connections by spending quality time with one another. He discovered that 19 out of 20 Danes belonging to some kind of club — and get to experience a profound happiness-inducing effect from the group social interactions. On average, according to Buettner, “Joining a club that requires you to show up once a month has the same impact on your happiness as a doubling of your income.”

2. Singapore: Give Security Its Due

Buettner is pretty straightforward in his suggestion to translate the Singaporean security lesson into an actionable American context: Take responsibility for solidifying your financial security. “Pay down your mortgage and pay off your car loan,” he recommends. In other words, a more sustaining kind of happiness can be expected from long-term financial security than the momentary lift of an impulse purchase.

3. Nuevo León, Mexico: Have Some Faith

Devoting time to family, friends, and faith is the most important takeaway from the people of Nuevo León. “Faith can enhance our sense of purpose and meaning in daily activities,” says Buettner. While Americans and Mexicans have a similar rate of belief in a higher power, research indicated Mexicans rank their beliefs as more important to their lives.

4. San Luis Obispo, California: Live Close To Your Work

“Satisfying work” is important to people in all places. Your commute is directly tied to this, so having the ability to walk, bike, or run to work like you do in activity-inducing communities like San Luis Obispo, where sidewalks and bike lanes are abundant (rather than sitting in a traffic-stricken commute), affords you time and energy to pursue the things that matter most to you.

Read “Four Happy Places” by Courtney Helgoe to get more insights from Buettner’s work.

Have a story about visiting one of the happiest places in the world? Share with us by commenting below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife.

About Dan Buettner
In his first best-selling book, The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, Buettner touched on the intrinsic role this sort of joie de vivre seemed to have on longevity. Then he decided to dig deeper and make an exploration of the world’s “happiness hot spots” the central focus of his newest book, Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way.

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