The “Blue Zones” of Wealth and Happiness
Two months ago, a friend invited me to a weekend social event at his ranch near Austin, Texas.
There I met a journalist who had spent years researching the health, diet and lifestyles of the world's longest-lived people.
"Wait a minute," I interjected. "Are you that Blue Zones guy?"
I was talking to Dan Buettner, the National Geographic fellow and best-selling author of several books, including The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World's Healthiest People.
The conversation later turned to the financial markets and the search for practical investment solutions.
After a few minutes, Dan said, "Hold on. Are you that Gone Fishin' guy?"
Over the next couple days we talked for hours, played a combative game of tennis and promised to mail each other our books when we got home.
Dan lives in Minnesota, while I divide my time between Florida and Virginia. But we've been corresponding ever since - and plan to hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail near Bend, Oregon, this August.
When I received Dan's books, I dove into his latest first, The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons From the World's Happiest People.
Yes, I know. Bookstores are swimming in titles about happiness and where to find it.
I plowed through dozens during the years I wrote my weekly Beyond Wealth column.
Let me save you a lot of time and trouble. If you're interested in the subject, read Dan's book first.
It's the only one you'll need.
The Blue Zones of Happiness is a fascinating exploration of the world's happiest people - and the many ways you can tweak your own life to make it more fulfilling.
That begins, of course, with defining what happiness is.
In Dan's view, it comes down to three P's: pleasure, purpose, and pride.
Pleasure includes the time we spend doing things we enjoy, especially with friends and family.
Purpose is the strand of happiness that results from living out your values.
Pride is feeling satisfied with your position in life, your accomplishments personal or professional.
The book kicks off with a Blue Zones Happiness Test that reveals your current state of happiness.
It also points out where you should concentrate your efforts to lead a more satisfying life.
For example, I scored high on all three measures of happiness. But I learned that I could notch things higher if I spent more time socializing, volunteered more frequently and got back to a regular meditation schedule.
Studies show that most of us are happier if we live with a loving partner, have friends we can confide in, get at least 30 minutes of physical exercise daily, own a dog, have clearly defined goals, spend less than an hour a day on social media and can articulate our purpose in life.
We find it tougher to be happy if we are overworking, overspending and undersocializing.
(I love spending time with friends, for example. But I'm an undersocializer. Research and writing is a passion. But it's a solitary business.)
Dan emphasizes several worthwhile steps, including getting outside more, pursuing a favorite hobby, getting a daily dose of humor and practicing generosity.
Better than simply delineating ideas and showing how they'll boost your happiness, he offers dozens of straightforward, actionable ideas to nudge you in the right direction.
The book is superbly researched, eminently practical and full of wisdom about living the kind of life where you feel like you are truly flourishing.
Of course, there is one thing that makes a happy life easier for most of us...
The best things in life may be free, but there are generally strings attached.
It's hard to imagine, for example, that anyone is truly happy if they are worried about retirement, living paycheck to paycheck or two steps ahead of the debt collector.
In my next column, I'll cover Dan's (and my) ideas about money and happiness.
And I'll discuss how to get enough of the former so that you can enjoy more of the latter.