“On average, 50 percent of individual differences in happiness is influenced by our genetic makeup, 10 percent is influenced by our life circumstances, and 40 percent is influenced by how we think and act every day.”
Thrive, page 13
But how should we think and act? Dan Buettner travelled the world to find out. He interviewed people in 4 unlikely “happy zones” who had achieved authentic happiness and he shares those answers in Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way.
Putting on his storytelling hat, Dan makes you feel like you are a fly on the wall in the engaging interviews. Then switching to his research hat, he distills the interviews into lessons that you can use to be happier and turn your environment into a “happy zone” – conducive to creating happiness for you and those around you. His book is like a manual on how to set up your life such that you can thrive without really trying.
It’s The Little Things That Add Up
“The secret to achieving happiness in your own life lies in making subtle changes in your surroundings to create gentle but ever present nudges.”
Thrive, page xiv
Every minute of each and every day we make choices about what we do and how we see the world around us. Thrive shows us that it is the combination of little choices that determines our happiness or lack thereof.
Is your environment nudging you in the right direction? Dan challenges you to change your environment to make nourishing choices a routine part of your life. He shares six life domains or “thrive centers” that we can shape to boost our long-term chances for happiness: workplace, social life, financial life, home, self. If you set up these thrive centres right, they will constantly nudge you to happiness.
GEM # 1
Show Me the Money! Or NOT!
“‘We’re not rich because we have a lot of money,’ he said. ‘We’re rich because we have few needs.’”
Thrive, page 164
Which of the following do you think would make you authentically happy: Wealth? Youth? Beauty? Awards?
According to Dan, it’s none of the above! Your needs determine your wealth. Why do we spend so much effort and energy trying to attain more money when the trick, he says, is to work for contentment? Most of us have the keys to happiness within our grasp but we are aiming for the wrong target.
Dan found that those who thrive tend to possess enough money to cover their basic needs. And rather than striving for more cash, they focus their time and energy on developing a caring group of healthy friends, working at meaningful jobs, engaging in enriching hobbies, staying in reasonable shape, volunteering, and belonging to faith-based communities.
GEM # 2
Socialize and Volunteer
“If you think about yourself, your problems will be endless – you’ll have a new pain in your back, some part of your car will need fixing, your savings account won’t be big enough. Fix one problem, and a new one always appears to take its place. But when you worry about someone else’s problems, or volunteer your time, you take the light off of your own troubles.”
Thrive, page 163
Those who volunteer at least 2 hours a week are happier. Maybe it’s because of the social aspect. Dan quotes a study carried out by Gallup-Healthways that shows that “spending six to seven hours in social time each day helps to maximize their well-being” (page 137).
Or maybe volunteering is powerful because it gives us occasion to lighten up and laugh. He tells us that laughter has been associated with many health benefits including lower stress levels and the release of beneficial hormones.
Or maybe it’s because it means we “belong” to something. According to one study, joining a group that meets even once per month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income! (Makes you want to meet once a week!)
Or maybe because it helps us feel gratitude. He suggests that up to 90% of happiness comes from actively appreciating the good around us. The more we can take the focus off ourselves and forget our own problems, the happier we will be.
Or maybe it is because it helps us limit our work hours to 40 per week. Those who have long work hours, he says, are more likely to suffer chronic diseases and a poor family life.
The message is clear. As little as two hours of volunteering per week can make you significantly happier.
And let’s face it. The one thing we ALL want, plain and simple, is to be happy (and for our children to be happy). What else could be more important? But most people spend more time doing things we think will make us happy (working for that next promotion sound familiar?) instead of trying to distill exactly what makes us happy.
This book is a great step. Review the menu of ideas and take the time to think about what really makes you happy. It will be different for each of us. Then go out and get it!
“Drink without getting drunk
Love without suffering jealousy
Eat without overindulging
And once in a while, with great discretion, misbehave.” (page 164)