ISSP Annual Conference 2014

happiness

Thrive

Buettner, Dan (2010) Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way. Washington DC: National Geographic.

Buettner has published research in the past about societies where people seem to live the longest. Now this book chronicles places where people seem the happiest (based on polls like the World Database of Happiness, World Values Survey, Gallup World Poll, Latinobarometro and Eurobarometer. This is an important part of social sustainability. And the US is far from the best. “Our founding documents promise is that the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right, but there’s no plan to actually achieve it.”

He tells stories about Denmark, Mexico, San Luis Obispo and Singapore. Obviously these areas differ in significant ways (eg, political freedom government corruption and hours of sunlight). But what he discovers is that much of what can make people happy can be “engineered” into their lives through:

--government policies that reduce economic/status disparities and limits work hours and shopping hours. (Average work week in Denmark is 37 hours; the Netherlands set maximum shop hours to 96 hours a week.)

--land use practices that encourage interactions and healthy behaviors (San Luis Obispo has redesigned the town to be more walkable/bikeable)

--personal decisions (like marrying the right person, living in a place with enough sun, watching less TV, paying off your house, owning a pet, living near your work, having a religious and/or meditation practice, and spending time with family/friends.)

Some of the interesting findings:

--Economic freedom and security seem more important to happiness than political freedom.

--In areas where women have achieved gender equality, men are happier than women and where women are not treated equally, women are often happier than men.

The last two chapters both seem to be trying to sum up the book, which felt like a song that was having trouble coming to an end. Chapter six summarizes the research on ‘thriving’ and then there is a tacked-on “Special bonus chapter” on living longer, an echo from his earlier work.

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