Happiness in the Blue Zone

Research shows that our inclination to be happy is only 50% dependent on our genes.  So what if you weren’t born with the happiness gene?  The great news is that the other 50% is largely dependent on external factors and circumstances.  It is true that we can’t control everything that happens in life, but there may be a way to lean into a happier life. 

New York Times best selling author, Dan Buettner has been gaining a lot of publicity recently with his new book release, THRIVE: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way. 

Buettner has teamed up with National Geographic to research some key happiness contributers and their relationship to longevity.  It has led them to areas known as the “Blue Zones”, where people are reporting a high level of wellbeing.  The team found that there were essentially six life domains, or thrive centers that were common denominators for life satisfaction.  They include the following:

1. Community – the places people thrived most were those that made them feel safe and those that provided opportunities to walk – cities that had large sidewalks, outdoor cafes, parks, and gardens (way to go, San Luis Obispo, CA! – noted to be the happiest place to live in the U.S.)

2. Work – Do you enjoy your work?  Do you work close to your home? Do you regularily take vacations?  Turns out that all three factors contribute to your wellness.

3. Social Life – I once read that you become the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with most.  If that were the case, wouldn’t you want to surround yourself with positive people?  Having a close knit of dependable friends is crucial for wellbeing, according to Beuttner.

4. Financial Life – apparently, the old saying “money can’t buy happiness” may be true.  According to the research, after the basic necessities of life are met (food, shelter, health insurance), money will bring about only short-lived happiness.  The key to long-term financial wellness is to “save mindlessly and spend thoughtfully”.

 5. Home – Creating an environment that is clear of clutter, planting a garden, and surrounding yourself with items that hold meaning to you will all facilitate a happy demenor.  Beuttner also recommends creating a room where you can engage yourself in challenging, yet meaningful activities/hobbies. 

6. Self – This takes us back to Monday’s post.  It is incredibly important to know your own strengths, values, talents, and passions.  Turns out that the people that were happiest in life knew what made them unique.

I think Beuttner’s book gives us a lot to think about.  It shows us that happiness is something that we can lean into by making a few adjustments in our life.  I can’t wait to read the whole book!

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Where does your happiness live?

How many times have we said to ourselves and others, “I just want to be happy” in life.  To most, happiness can range from contentment to pure elation and joy.  Sure, there is truth in Joseph Cambell’s simple advise, “follow your bliss”, but how many of us really know what that is?  Do we ever just stop and ask ourselves what exactly we want to be, do, or have in this lifetime? 

There is currently a plethora of books and motivational speakers discussing the science of happiness.  Psychologist Martin Seligman provides the acronym PERMA to summarize many of Positive Psychology’s findings; “humans seem happiest when they have Pleasure (tasty foods, warm baths, etc.), Engagement or (aka Flow, the absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging activity), Relationships (social ties have turned out to be extremely reliable indicator of happiness), Meaning (a perceived quest or belonging to something bigger), and finally Accomplishments (having realized tangible goals)”.

When I look at Seligman’s PERMA, I think the pleasure principle is inherent in most of us.  We all intuitively know what brings us that instant gratification in various capacities.  I think the other principles, however, take some serious thought.  It’s easy to think that we’d be happy the minute we won the lottery or the instant we met our ‘soul mate’.  But have we sat down and pondered how much money we really need to thrive in this world?  How would you recognize your soul mate if you haven’t really thought about your values and what you want out of a life partner?  The truth is, many of us can’t pursue happiness unless we know what gives our life meaning, what we want to achieve, and what healthy relationships look and feel like.  We chase happiness in hopes of catching up to something that ends up being elusive, at best, unless we know the unique experiences for which we are searching.

I recently read Jack Canfield’s book, “The Success Principles”.  One of his assignments is to write down 30 things you want to do, be, and have.  It is an exercise on becoming absolutely clear in what you visualize for your life.  I felt silly when I first sat down to write down 90 items, but it ended up being a lot of fun.  Because there were no limits, it was quite empowering and gave me clarity on what was most important to me in life.  That’s what happens when you peel back the layers, stop judging yourself, and listen to your authentic voice.  You start living your truth. 

Only then can you follow your bliss and be on your way to experiencing true happiness.

***Stay tuned for more on the science of happiness Wednesday****

Deepali’s piece of wellness:  Exercise your mind and get excited about writing down 30 things that you want to be, do, and have.  You will have a much easier time hearing the sound of joy when it comes knocking on your door!

Comparing Apples to Apples

I think it’s inevitable that we all, to some degree, compare ouselves to those around us.  Does my outfit look good enough, is my house big enough, is the amount of money I make enough?  Enough, already!  The “enough” seems to be centered around where we stand in comparison to those around us.  It could be our friends, family, coworkers, etc.  We have this need to impress and try to “keep up with the Joneses”.   We seek approval from those outside of ourselves, despite what our truth might be.  We begin to judge ourselves by the standards to which we hold others. 

I remember looking at certain friends over the years and thinking “wow, they have it good…..their lives have lined up perfectly for them….if only I could have it that good”.  These same people over the years would be the ones to go through their own  life struggles, falling off the pedestal I had placed them on.  A person’s life may seem perfect on the outside, but perhaps only on the surface.  I found out recently that a good friend of mine is going through life-changing transitions, many of which I had never known. 

The truth of the matter is, we all go through ebbs and flows in life.  It really is pointless to compare your own path to that of another, thinking you should be riding along at the same speed, going to the same places.  We all have our own unique things to learn, problems to face, fears to tackle, layers to peel down.  If our happiness is based upon being in line with someone else’s path, we won’t ever find fulfillment.  It’s about looking inside yourself and really radiating what is true to you.  Who is your authentic self?  What is your purpose and what do you have to contribute to the world?  What really brings you joy?  My hope is that the only comparison we make is within ourselves…..to compare how much we have grown by some of our challenging experiences and knowing that we have always been enough.

The Deeper Seed of Happiness

When it comes to spirituality, there are few teachers that compare to Eckhart Tolle.  I have read the book below and I highly recommend it to all.  There are many spiritual life lessons packed inside.  This is an excerpt from the January ’09 issue of O magazine. 

Oneness with All Life by Eckhart Tolle
  1. Don’t seek happiness. If you seek it, you won’t find it, because seeking is the antithesis of happiness. Happiness is ever elusive, but freedom from unhappiness is attainable now, by facing what is rather than making up stories about it.
  2. The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral, which always is as it is. There is the situation or the fact, and here are my thoughts about it. Instead of making up stories, stay with the facts. For example, “I am ruined” is a story. It limits you and prevents you from taking effective action. “I have 50 cents left in my bank account” is a fact. Facing facts is always empowering.
  3. See if you can catch the voice in your head, perhaps in the very moment it complains about something, and recognize it for what it is: the voice of the ego, no more than a thought. Whenever you notice that voice, you will also realize that you are not the voice, but the one who is aware of it. In fact, you are the awareness that is aware of the voice. In the background, there is the awareness. In the foreground, there is the voice, the thinker. In this way you are becoming free of the ego, free of the unobserved mind.
  4. Wherever you look, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence for the reality of time—a rotting apple, your face in the bathroom mirror compared with your face in a photo taken 30 years ago—yet you never find any direct evidence, you never experience time itself. You only ever experience the present moment.
  5. Why do anxiety, stress, or negativity arise? Because you turned away from the present moment. And why did you do that? You thought something else was more important. One small error, one misperception, creates a world of suffering.
  6. People believe themselves to be dependent on what happens for their happiness. They don’t realize that what happens is the most unstable thing in the universe. It changes constantly. They look upon the present moment as either marred by something that has happened and shouldn’t have or as deficient because of something that has not happened but should have. And so they miss the deeper perfection that is inherent in life itself, a perfection that lies beyond what is happening or not happening. Accept the present moment and find the perfection that is untouched by time.
  7. The more shared past there is in a relationship, the more present you need to be; otherwise, you will be forced to relive the past again and again.
  8. Equating the physical body with “I,” the body that is destined to grow old, wither, and die, always leads to suffering. To refrain from identifying with the body doesn’t mean that you no longer care for it. If it is strong, beautiful, or vigorous, you can appreciate those attributes—while they last. You can also improve the body’s condition through nutrition and exercise. If you don’t equate the body with who you are, when beauty fades, vigor diminishes, or the body becomes incapacitated, this will not affect your sense of worth or identity in any way. In fact, as the body begins to weaken, the light of consciousness can shine more easily.
  9. You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you and allowing that goodness to emerge.
  10. If peace is really what you want, then you will choose peace.

Exerpted from Oneness with All Life by Eckhart Tolle. Published by arrangement with Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copywright © 2008 by Eckhart Tolle