The Gallup World Poll publishes a report on their findings involving the happiest people on Earth every year. This year National Geographic magazine has an article in their November issue discussing the results, written by Dan Buettner, author of Blue Zones of Happiness.
Certain nations top the list every year. Costa Rica, Denmark and Singapore report more happiness than other nations. The United States, a nation fond of bragging about its freedoms, isn’t all that happy.
Money isn’t the overriding factor either. Costa Rica, for example, is relatively poor compared to the U.S or Canada. There has to be something other than money causing people to report unusually high levels of happiness.
The National Geographic article starts with a Costa Rican who socializes virtually every day with a select group of friends, sleeps seven hours a night, walks to work, eats healthy foods, loves his job and the people he works with, volunteers weekly, attends church services and enjoys soccer. It sounds like an awesome life! I encourage you to buy the November 2017 issue of National Geographic to read the details yourself (or see your library).
Before we get too excited (or defensive) we need to examine what criteria are used to determine happiness. Five questions were asked about social life, financial health, community, physical health and purpose in life in the poll. The poll asked about positive and negative experiences.
For most nations (and people), Western views of happiness (having a lot of stuff, early retirement, travel) are not overriding determinants in happiness. Yes, free time makes a difference in the level of happiness people experience, but total retirement doesn’t lead to overall happiness if your life isn’t already in balance. Having lots of “stuff” is considered something which makes people happy. In reality it appears the opposite is true. Once the basics are met, more stuff makes us less happy.
Costa Rica, Denmark and Singapore top the list while not always recognized as First World nations. They are! I’ve been to Costa Rica and personally experienced the happiness the people of this nation experience.
Denmark and Singapore are small nations based on geography. Both nations have a relatively high level of income and standard of living. Taxes are high in Denmark, providing a safety net which seems to reduce economic levels of stress. In Denmark when the water rises all boats float higher, unlike in the U.S. where there are decided “haves” and “have-nots”.
The Happiest Place in the U.S.
Even though the U.S. is modestly happy, some areas of the country are happier than others. My good friend, Pete Adeney, aka Mr. Money Mustache, would be happy to know Boulder, Colorado is listed as the happiest place in the U.S. Pete lives a hop, skip and a jump from Boulder and continuously espouses the benefits of living right and happiness.
What makes Boulder, Colorado and the surrounding area such a great place to live? First, you have to credit the people and the way they chose to live. Biking, walking and other outdoor activities are an integral part of life around Boulder. Outdoor activities lead to better health and more positive interactions with neighbors and the community.
Buildings are limited by law how high they can be. Rather than fund more roads and parking, taxpayers voted for 300 miles of additional bike routes. How many communities are so enlightened?
In some parts of the nation the soda tax is contentious. Chicago eventually ended their soda tax after so-called negative experiences and reports of lost sales by retailers to surrounding areas. Boulder didn’t have such issues with a soda tax. Boulder voted in a soda tax and kept it, using the funds raised to provide resources for health programs for kids.
Another hotly debated issue is food stamps, aka, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The city of Boulder, not the state of Colorado, pays recipients of SNAP an equal amount compared to the federal benefit, effectively doubling the payment. This allows the poor to eat better quality food which leads to better health and a greater opportunity to secure gainful employment sooner. No wonder Colorado led the nation out of the 2008 economic crisis. What blows the mind is how stubborn other regions of the U.S. fight such obviously successful programs. And Colorado does all this with a below average tax levy.
A Man of Our Times
Pete Adeney is man ahead of his time. He retired at 30 and still provides massive benefits to his community and the world. He has preached many of the fundamentals of happiness in his blog.
His message is relentless even in the face of opposition. He believes people should bike or walk virtually everywhere. Living close to where you work, shop and play are vital in his philosophy. Only rare travel outside one’s city is the only time a carbon fueled vehicle should ever be used.
On the surface most people think this means Adeney is encouraging human powered transportation to save money. While this is true at some level, his attitudes are based upon “living right” and maximizing happiness, as well as environmental concerns. Walking and biking are healthy activities which allow people to enjoy life. When you are limited due to health, happiness declines.
Recently Adeney bought an old building in downtown Longmont, where he lives, and remodeled it as his blog’s world headquarters. It serves as a community center where people can meet and educational programs are provided. Of course the venue will contain heavy doses of his philosophy. And it should. When one of the happiest guys I’ve ever met has something to say, I listen.
The community center is only the start. I’ve noticed a change in tactics recently from his Twitter feed. No longer is he satisfied with preaching the good word, he now encourages people to become active in their local community by voting and attending meetings where elected officials discuss issues with the public. He acknowledges he doesn’t always get his way, but is always optimistic. He should be. He is a happy guy in the happiest place in the United States.
How Happy Are You?
Now we get to the real issue of this post. Maybe you don’t live in Boulder, Colorado or anywhere near all the wonderful people of the surrounding communities. Maybe you never had a chance to break bread with Pete or his kind.
I hear the complaints already. Our community doesn’t have bike paths or that you live 38 miles from work. There are two things you can do about it: keep complaining or change the circumstances.
Guys like Pete are smart. They are not disillusioned. Progress is slow even in the great state of Colorado and the happy communities of Boulder and Longmont. Pete recently reported attending a public meeting with officials to present his ideas. The results were mixed.
He didn’t give up! In the last week he tweeted a local voting guide. Adeney knows national elections get all the press, but local elections are where you can make a real difference! Your vote has more punch in a local election. Fewer votes mean your vote is a bigger piece of the pie. And every decision a local official makes affects you locally. National politicians make decisions that may have nothing to do with your community at all.
Happiness is between the ears. Several factors contribute to how happy you feel. Belonging tops the list after health. If you are healthy and feel wanted by family, friends and your community, you are well on your way to feeling happy.
Weather, incidentally, has only a marginal effect on happiness. I live in a cold part of the U.S. (NE Wisconsin) and it has some effect on my well being, but only a small amount. Outdoor activities are different where I live. Skiing and other winter sports occupy several months of the year. Biking is difficult in January (even dangerous), but hiking and walking are possible in almost any weather. Those who partake in seasonal outdoor activities report higher levels of happiness.
Doing Something about It
You can complain or do something about your level of happiness. When you are actively involved in the solution, even when results are limited, you feel better about yourself. Demanding someone else do something about it still leaves your opinion unheard!
You have significant control over your spending, even if income control is somewhat limited. Side gigs can fill the income void if necessary. Keeping spending reasonable compared to your income is your choice only, with the exception of people with medical issues.
Socializing makes people happier. You can always find a group who welcomes you. Groups who exclude others are less happy as they need to justify their negative behavior. I recommend a social life with people who energize you.
Purpose in life is something you must find through personal examination. Once you determine what juices you, pursue the dream! No one can stop you except you. There is always a way as readers of this blog will soon discover as I share a personal story of redemption and growth. Hardship isn’t the issue either; it’s the opportunity to expand beyond what you dream possible.
Physical health is largely a product of your eating and exercise habits. Eat good food; walk, hike and bike. The secret formula to a long happy life.
Finally, community provides an environment for you to live in. Make it a good one. All the members of a society compose a community. Your active involvement makes all the difference.
Never let anyone put you down. You will fail. That is not a character flaw; it is life. Failure doesn’t define you. How you deal with failure does!
Happiness is partially a choice. Many of the happiest nations are happy because they choose to be. Your active participation is what determines your level of pleasure and happiness. Climate and current conditions are only minor obstacles of the way to a happy life.
You can choose to move to a happy community, but you still need to be active in the new community or it will be just like the one you came from for you.
Or, you can make your community a better place to live. The choice is yours. Because the happiest place on Earth is in your head.