I’m a California native. When I saw a study identifying San Luis Obispo, California, among Denmark, Singapore and Monterrey, Mexico, as the happiest places to live, I was dying to know what these places were doing right. As a fellow with National Geographic, Dan Buettner conducted a five-year study identifying the happiest places on earth and researching the common characteristics that improved the lives of its residents. His research hones in on what Buettner calls Blue Zones. These are locations where people live happier, healthier, thriving lives. In California, for example, Buettner traced San Luis Obispo’s happiness to local policies that directly impacted the residents’ social well being. Says Buettner, "when [Ken Schwartz] came in as mayor, he kind of galvanized the City Council… And rather than focusing on policies that bettered the commerce environment… he focused on policies that favored quality of life.” This made San Luis Obispo one of the most pedestrian and bike friendly cities in California with a pedestrian corridor as the main route people use for their work commute. I can attest that residents use this walking corridor for their daily commute to work and social gathers like concerts and the weekly farmer’s market.
You can find out more about his research and the different Blue Zones in his book, Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way or on the Blue Zones website. Here are a few highlights and common themes among the Blue Zones that stuck out for me:
Know when enough work is enough: This validates what Tony Schwartz argued in the New York Times, and which we explored in a previous blog post. Buettner firmly believes that social interaction is the key to lifelong happiness. He says, "… the happiest people in America socialize about seven hours a day." Impressive.
We spend a lot of time at work – relationships are key: He also found that good relationships are key for a thriving workplace. "… The biggest determinant of whether or not you'll like your job is if you have a best friend there, more so than how much you're paid, so proactively make sure you have good friends there." At Corner Alliance, we established a Community Team that organizes regular social get-togethers with the staff, such as coffees, lunches or the occasional happy hour. The idea is to get folks together, not to work, but to spend some time to get to know one another, build trust and friendships. This has been particularly beneficial when new folks join the team.
I highly recommend watching Buettner speak about how to live a thriving lifestyle on his TED talk and listening to his entire interview with NPR. He also has his own a happiness assessment which you can take online here. His research gives a lot of food for thought and great insights into what we can do individually to make sure we’re thriving.