Page Turners: Holistic Book Reviews: The Blue Zones of Happiness by Dan Buettner

Are you one of the happiest people in the world? It’s not a guarantee, but if you are, perhaps you live in Costa Rica, Denmark, or Singapore—all homes of the happiest people in the world. In his latest book, National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner draws from research spanning, as the book proclaims, “141 countries to uncover how and why the hot spots produce the world’s most satisfied, healthy, and thriving people.”

I first heard about Buettner on the Rich Roll Podcast, and after hearing his interview, picked up his first book, The Blue Zones. His book focused on populations with the highest life expectancies, with a thorough discussion on the aspects responsible for these areas’ longevity. His latest book, The Blue Zones of Happiness, seeks out the world’s happiest places.

In the opening chapter, Buettner asks his readers to imagine three different people: a 55 year-old-man living in Costa Rica who spends plenty of time socializing with friends and family; a Danish mother-of-two living in community housing where she prepares meals with neighbors and bikes as her main mode of transportation; and a man from Singapore who drives a $750,000 BMW, puts in an equal number of hours toward work and philanthropy, and pays high taxes to cover health care costs.

As Buettner writes, “Although at first glance these strands may seem quite different from one another, we often find them braided together in the lives of the world’s happiest people.” In other words, all three of these people live in the world’s happiest countries and, despite seeming dissimilar from the outset, share commonalities that we can learn from.

Buettner’s anecdotes are interesting, and his writing style is open and honest. Even those without an interest in research-heavy books are likely to come away with the desire to live in one of the happy places. To find out if you’re maximizing your happiness, one of the earlier chapters contains the Blue Zones Happiness Test as a way to measure your individual happiness. Buettner refers to 3 Ps—purpose, passion, and pride—as the key to finding happiness.

The Blue Zones of Happiness is divided into three separate sections: “Blueprint for a Happier Life,” “The World’s Happiest Places,” and “Happier By Design.” While part three is a comprehensive look at designing your own life to better induce happiness, I was most interested in learning about the world’s happiest places. Each country profile includes a round-up of lessons—takeaways on how to live like a Tico, a Dane, or a Singaporean.

While some lessons seem obvious, like “eat six servings of fruits and vegetables a day” or “eat quality, not quantity” (lessons which Basmati tries to share every day), others are harder to realize. Learn to enjoy special “little” days, like people from Costa Rica do: take time to get-together with friends to bond over shared activities, or shop for groceries daily in order to eat fresher food, engage with people, and get exercise by walking around the market. Or consider cohousing, like the Danes. Some of Buettner’s lessons are opposite to what we might think, like the Singapore lesson to get rich. As Buettner says, “Singaporeans believe in working hard, saving money, investing wisely, and building wealth.”

While Buettner’s points are interesting, the most pressing concern is: how can we become happier people? Does it really take moving to Costa Rica, Denmark, or Singapore to make it happen?

Luckily, Buettner’s answer is no. There are ways to set ourselves up to be happier that don’t involve behavioral changes. For example, designing a healthier food environment, creating healthier workplaces, and being mindful of our social media presence can have big individual—and ultimately community—changes.

The Blue Zones of Happiness is a fascinating look at the aspects of our lives that are ultimately responsible for our happiness. Buettner offers hope for a better world, and one in which we all have the power to change.