September 2015: Lessons from the Happiest Places on Earth

About a year ago, a young man named Pharrell Williams released a song called “Happy” from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack album.  It became an instant sensation, winning the Grammy Award for Best Music Video and Best Pop Solo Performance for 2015, and BET’s Award for Video of the Year 2014. The song peaked at No. 1 in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and 19 other countries. It was the best-selling song of 2014 in the United States with 6.45 million copies sold for the year, as well as in the United Kingdom with 1.5 million copies sold for the year (  It got me to thinking about why this became such an overnight sensation.  I would suggest that it’s because happiness is such an intangible quality that’s hard to define and even harder to come by.  So when I saw the article “What We Can Learn From the Four Happiest Places On Earth” in the August 2015 issue of Experience Life Magazine, I thought it was important enough to share.


To read the article in its entirety you can catch it on line at:  Oh and if you want to listen to the song one more time:  Enjoy!


Taking cues from the world’s happiest places and people, you might find a simple shift in your attitude could make all the difference in unlocking your own true bliss.  What makes a person “happy”? And how does one define “happiness”? In 2011, we (Experience Life Magazine) reviewed four of the happiest places in the world – Denmark; Singapore; Nuevo León, Mexico; and San Luis Obispo, California – deemed “Blue Zones” by National Geographic explorer and author Dan Buettner. While the places may not look very similar in climate, language, or proximity, we unveiled characteristics that united their inhabitants as some of the happiness in the world.


So what do we mean by “happy”? Most often, we tie joy to specific moments and high points in life. Buettner encourages us to think differently about how we define happiness in our lives. His philosophy, to “live happiness,” is derived from the ordinary, everyday acts of life like noticing the trees as you walk in the woods, feeling safe on the street at night, and enjoying your job. Although the prize-winning moments of life can cause happiness, too, he argues that they don’t resonate and sustain overall life satisfaction.  As Buettner notes in our piece, his hope is for us to start looking for a prolonged kind of happiness in the right places, taking cues from the everyday habits and attitudes of happy people around the world – specifically, from those living in the Blue Zones.


Here’s what we can glean from these happy places, according to Buettner’s research.


Over the past 35 years, Americans have increased their average income by 20 percent and doubled the size of their homes since 1950. Yet, as a whole, the nation doesn’t report being more fulfilled, according to Buettner’s findings. He notes that Denmark is a great real-life case against the belief that more money = a better life. So what is Denmark doing right?

In large part, Buettner attributes their happiness to cultivating meaningful connections by spending quality time with one another. He discovered that 19 out of 20 Danes belonging to some kind of club – and get to experience a profound happiness-inducing effect from the group social interactions. On average, according to Buettner, “Joining a club that requires you to show up once a month has the same impact on your happiness as a doubling of your income.”


Buettner is pretty straightforward in his suggestion to translate the Singaporean security lesson into an actionable American context: Take responsibility for solidifying your financial security. “Pay down your mortgage and pay off your car loan,” he recommends. In other words, a more sustaining kind of happiness can be expected from long-term financial security than the momentary lift of an impulse purchase.


Devoting time to family, friends, and faith is the most important takeaway from the people of Nuevo León. “Faith can enhance our sense of purpose and meaning in daily activities,” says Buettner. While Americans and Mexicans have a similar rate of belief in a higher power, research indicated Mexicans rank their beliefs as more important to their lives.


“Satisfying work” is important to people in all places. Your commute is directly tied to this, so having the ability to walk, bike, or run to work like you do in activity-inducing communities like San Luis Obispo, where sidewalks and bike lanes are abundant (rather than sitting in a traffic-stricken commute), affords you time and energy to pursue the things that matter most to you.

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