Profiles of the World’s Happiest People

Which one of the following lifestyles sounds most appealing to you:

  • He is a healthy, middle-aged father who socializes at least six hours a day and has a few good friends he can count on. He sleeps at least seven hours most nights, walks to work, and eats six servings of fruits and vegetables most days. He works no more than 40 hours a week at a job he loves with co-workers he enjoys. He spends a few hours every week volunteering; on the weekends he worships God and indulges his passion for soccer. He lives among like-minded people in the verdant, temperate Central Valley of Costa Rica.
  • She has a loving partner and three young children, she lives in a tightly knit cohousing community with other families who share chores, childcare, and meals in a communal kitchen. She’s a sociologist, a job that challenges and engages her every day. She and her family bicycle to work, the store, and the children’s school, which helps keep them fit. She pays high taxes on her modest salary but gets health care and education for her family, as well as guaranteed retirement income. She lives in Denmark, where people feel confident the government will make sure that nothing too bad happens to them.
  • He is a successful entrepreneur, drives a $750,000 BMW and lives in a $10 million house. He’s married, with four well-behaved children who excel at school. He put himself through school working four jobs and started a company that eventually grew into a $59 million multinational enterprise. He works about 60 hours a week between his business and his philanthropic pursuits. He’s earned the respect of his employees, peers, and the larger community. He’s worked hard to achieve his success, but he readily admits that he probably couldn’t have created this life anywhere other than Singapore.

The first person enjoys the pleasure of living daily life to the fullest in a place that mitigates stress and maximizes joy. Scientists call his type of happiness experienced happiness or positive affect. Surveys measure it by asking people how often they smiled, laughed, or felt joy during the past 24 hours.

The second person represents a brand of happiness typified in the purpose-driven life. This concept was made popular by Aristotle, who believed that true happiness came only from a life of meaning—of doing what was worth doing. This type of happiness is measured by asking respondents whether they learned or did something interesting yesterday.

The third person represents the “life satisfaction” strand of happiness. Social scientists often measure this type of happiness by asking people to rate their lives on a scale of zero to 10. Experts also call this evaluative happiness. Internationally it’s considered the gold standard metric of well-being.

These profiles and info about happiness come from Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones of Happiness.

The researchers who publish the annual World Happiness Report found that about three-quarters of human happiness is driven by six factors: strong economic growth, healthy life expectancy, quality social relationships, generosity, trust, and freedom to live the life that’s right for you. These factors don’t materialize by chance; they are intimately related to a country’s government and its cultural values. In other words the happiest places incubate happiness for their people.

Given how important “place” is to one’s happiness, it’s disappointing that the U.S. isn’t one of the top 10 happiest places. Does that suggest that our government and cultural values to not incubate happiness?

Buettner does offer a profile of the town of Boulder, CO, using the town as an example of where people have worked to create a community that can support the happiness of its members. I have been to Boulder a couple of times, and it is one of my favorite places to visit in the U.S.

So creating communities to incubate happiness can be done it the U.S., but it needs to be done proactively.

As to which of the three profiles above sound most appealing to me, I think it would be combination of the first two. Having a few good friends, volunteering, socializing, and living a healthy lifestyle sounds quite appealing, but I think your life has to have some purpose to it, as noted in the second lifestyle featured.


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