I love Buettner’s take on the “Lazy Person’s Approach to Happiness” – in the end it really is what you are surrounded by, both in objects, people, and broader environmental things, from ads to trees to your daily commute.
Over the past 15 years, Buettner has carved out a niche at National Geographic, where he travels the world in search of the healthiest people and “distills their lessons,” as he puts it, translating existential philosophy into practical information for limited-attention-span U.S. readers.
Beuttner: “There are two points that I make that you might not have heard elsewhere. Number one, I like the idea of thinking about happiness in the same way you think of your retirement portfolio. You want it balanced—the short term and long term, stocks and bonds. The hell-bent pursuit of purpose kind of loses the point a little bit, because there is value in the sum of positive emotions we experience every day. So if all you’re doing is pursuing your purpose, or if all you’re doing is very goal-oriented, you forgo joy today for a perceived better future… So I argue that there are a number of things you can do to enjoy your life day to day, and you ought to be putting some of your effort there.
“So what I argue for are statistically driven things you can do to optimize your environment so you’re more likely to be happy for the long term… [For example] people who live near water—whether it’s a lake or river or an ocean—are about 10 percent more likely to be happy than people who don’t. And people who live in medium-sized cities are more likely to be happy than the anonymity of a big city or perhaps the too in-your-face, limited-possibility environment of a tiny town. You’re more likely to be happy if your house has a sidewalk, and if you live in a bikeable place.
“Financial security is also, obviously, huge. It really does deliver more happiness over time than most anything that money can be spent on… The extent to which we spend money is very much a product of our environment. If you’re constantly prompted to buy stuff, if constant marketing messages are rinsing over your psyche, you’re more likely to buy things than to spend that money more wisely on experiences or financial security. So that’s yet another way we can think about our environment shaping our happiness. Or lack thereof.”
Beuttner gives examples of cities that have done exceptionally well to create positive environments for their citizens, such as Boulder, CO, and my hometown of San Luis Obispo, CA.
In your book Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Design Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces, co-authored with Naomi Sachs, ASLA, you argue we’re returning to the wisdom of the ancient Greeks, who understood the healing power of nature and mind-body connection. Why has it taken so long to rediscover these essential understandings?
While the understanding was not entirely lost, the medical world needed proof. They were not interested in aesthetic arguments that gardens are “nice” and people appreciate “green views.” Those…
Introvert-extrovert labels have always intrigued me because I grew up in a house of introverts, where quietness was an essential part of the day. Yet we did plenty of things attributed to extroverts, like attending parties every week, having a house full of guests over the holidays, and going on road trips with other families and random friends of my parents.
There was always down time built into our days and nights. In high school, I assumed I was an extrovert because of all the tell-tale signs of things extroverts are supposed to enjoy based on the highly inaccurate and oversimplified checklist I used to self-diagnose. I enjoyed things extroverts are presumed to like that introverts supposedly don’t: playing sports, spending time with other human beings, going to crowded places like the mall, doing loud things like attending musical concerts and parties.
But at the same time, my personality seemed to be at odds with these things. There was always a caveat. I liked going to parties, but hated making small talk. I liked spending time with some people, but wanted my alone time. I liked martial arts, but hated having to perform in front of the class for promotions. I wrongly thought I must just not like these activities. I had neglected to take into account that introverts have a different approach to things like parties and learning sports than extroverts might.
Here are a list of five things I especially enjoy that are sometimes viewed as exclusive extrovert territory, yet can be very easily enjoyed by introverts without even much tweaking.
I grew up being enthralled by martial arts, primarily through Bruce Lee movies I watched as a kid. I’ve dabbled in kickboxing, kungfu, and recently capoeira, which all involve moving primarily by footwork: standing up, punching, or kicking. One of the things I really enjoy about this style is that you can have your alone time to just focus on repetitive movements, especially when using pads or heavy bags to practice.
Ground fighting styles like Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, on the other hand, seem like they’d be an introvert’s worst nightmare,because the assumption is you need outward extroversion to engage. There is no alone work, barring warm ups; you are constantly drilling techniques or “rolling” with another person from the moment you step on the mats. When Renzo Gracie Jiu Jitsu in Jersey City opened up a few blocks from us, I had no intention of signing up, but my adventurous seven-year-old ambivert daughter had other plans. I wasn’t surprised she took to it, although was a little surprised she wanted to sign up for the entire year and loves it so much she practically lives there. I was also surprised by the amount of time you’re in your own head in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Once you learn a technique, it’s all about strategizing with your partner in order to pull off the move. I’ve been training for six months, and it is pretty impressive how few moves I can pull off given the amount I train. My daughter, on the other hand, can run circles around me without even thinking about the steps required.
I fell in love with karaoke when I lived in China, where it is a very intimate affair with a few friends and private rooms. Karaoke in the United States, with big stages in rooms full of people, would terrify anyone not drunk. Or anyone who can’t sing (not that I have that issue, cough, cough). But there are plenty of areas in many cities that have genuine Asian style karaoke with small rooms and a handful of snacks to order from. My favorite joints in New York City are the ones that allow kids. My daughter loves randomly picking a song in a different language, while I stick to familiar classics that I can introduce her to: British punkrock from the 1970s. Don’t let Hollywood fool you into thinking this is extrovert territory. The best thing about it is that you’re supposed to be off-key, just like you’re not meant to be some classically trained singer when you’re jumping on the bed belting out lyrics to a song with your friends, or you’re in the car and your jam comes on. The best part is when you make mistakes and get out of tune or read the lyrics wrong!
Fact: dancing is fun. While I prefer dancing at home with my kids, sometimes I am required to leave the house for adult social gatherings. I have exactly four moves I use at Punjabi parties that I learned when I was 13 and are still going strong. But there are plenty of venues for introverts to stomp those feet. If Salsa night or Bhangra night at a dance club are not your thing, there are plenty of other options. Many gyms offer dance classes as a form of exercise, rather than just the study of the dance technique itself.
There are many forms of dance from all over the world you can learn at a dance studio, which used to be relegated only to professional dancers, that now even casual dancers can try out. In addition to classes like breakdancing, salsa, or ballet, in places with high numbers of immigrant populations, there are also some wonderful schools catering to the art from those communities, ranging from traditional Indian dances to African dances like the Soukoss rooted in the Congo. I’ve always wanted to learn traditional Indian dances like Bharat Natyam or Kathak, with incredible footwork, facial expressions, and intricate details. In many areas of New Jersey and New York with large Indian populations (especially South Indians) you can learn these forms at dance companies like Navatman. And many of these dance studios have their own themed nights emulating a dance club, except they’re with people you know and they end at a reasonable time, allowing you to get home at a reasonable hour and read that book!
Family and Friends Road Trip!
I find it sad when introverts buy into the notion they could never survive a road trip with other people, especially family and friends. Of course, if there are deep-seated feuds happening, introversion is going to be the least of your issues. I grew up all over the world, and every country we’d live in, there would always be roadtrips whenever there was a long weekend. In Nigeria, we’d visit waterfalls, in Dubai we’d go on camping trips on the beach or to see the dunes, and in the United States we went on a big fat extended family trip to visit three islands in Hawaii. It is definitely a challenge when extroverts don’t understand the need for introverts to be alone because it’s so ingrained in our culture that this is the behaviour of someone who is angry or sad or depressed, and it must be fixed immediately. So rather than putting ourselves in a situation where we have to justify ourselves, we carved it into the schedule. Chill time, however we decided to use that time, was not optional. Without it, it feels like you’ve been scheduled for five museum visits in one day!
I once made the mistake of going on a dumpling crawl with someone I knew from work when I used to work at a company selling knives door to door (it did not go well). I got the idea from somewhere (I turned out to be wrong) that they knew what they were doing. The idea of a crawl sounded like fun – walking around exploring a city while stopping frequently to sample dumplings. It turned out to be planned with a very extroverted sense of fun in mind. There were long walks filled with awkward small talk and way too much food ordered at each dumpling joint, which gave rise to even more small talk. If Shakespeare had gone on that dumpling crawl, I’m pretty certain he would have centered his tragedies on food crawls. I can’t think of very many things worse than not being able to enjoy your food and being inconvenienced by needing to find something to say, over and over again. The dumpling crawls I subsequently planned, with my kids first and later with a select group of adults, took into top priority the enjoyment of maximum dumplings without too much time-wasting conversation. This is not to say we can’t have fun conversations, but there were no long walks, and definitely no long draining commute times!
Leisure time activities are often pre-scripted as “introvert” and “extrovert” activities, as if extroverts can’t enjoy a quiet evening at home with a glass of wine and a book, or an introvert couldn’t possibly go dancing because of the loud music and people.
While extroverts can spend hours surrounded by people, going from one activity to another, without any people-break, and be totally sane afterwards, introverts like myself would end up eating somebody. Strategies are important. What are some of yours?
Wow, I can’t believe it’s already November. Fall has been going fast.
It seems like I have been incredibly “busy with stuff” – kid stuff, grown-up stuff, house stuff, work stuff. Recently I realized I was forgetting to do all the also-important “me” stuff.
I mean, I wasn’t so bad; I had had several coffee dates with friends, taken time to go for more walks, was deliberately NOT folding laundry and instead just snuggling on the couch during my husband’s and my Friday night TV ritual (we won’t admit it’s a ritual but at this point it really is).
So the “little” maintenance stuff was getting done. Check.
However, I realized I wasn’t making time for the “big stuff”. The stuff that gave me purpose, that made me feel like I was contributing back to the community.
A few recent events reminded me of this.
First: Getting to attend and present at a fantastic conference two weeks ago – EPIC (Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference) held in Montreal this year – where I was surrounded by like-minded folks in my line of work (ethnography and studying humans in business and corporate settings). There’s nothing like being able to share your work and how you spend your days, and have people say, “wow, that’s cool!” or even “have you considered this too?”, rather than “uh, what’s that?”
Second: Halloween! While I’m not a huge fan of candy (and we ended up trading the kids’ candy for a “better” treat), I do appreciate the communal ritual of kids running like hooligans up and down their neighborhood streets, getting to show off their costumes to the grown-ups who might otherwise be isolated – whether they’re retirees or just work 70+ hours a week – who then get to be social with cute kids in cute costumes and make the kids happy by giving them treats. Not to mention the fun of dressing up and pretending to be someone or something else, or just offering a visual pun or cultural reference!
Third: my boss organized an offsite for our whole team to use glue and stickers and washi tape and cut out pictures from magazines and create “vision boards” for ourselves. Theoretically it was about work, but in reality and fully endorsed by our boss, it was really about finding four big-but-small goals that are going to keep you motivated, keep you driven, at home, at work, and in life.
Mine were pretty simple yet also pretty complicated:
Make my work more actionable (not just work for work’s sake; what were the actions that could be taken from it?).
Go on one “big” adventure a year.
Get people playing more.
Getting myself to play seems hard enough; but getting others to play more also taps into that #2 goal of making what I do impactful/actionable.
I want to do more than just support play, I want to start actively PLAYING and pushing play. Start toy-bombing again. Start promoting play activities with our neighbors and at work. I’m supposed to be in charge of a yarn bombing event at work, and yet I’ve been hesitant to promote the HELL out of it (not sure why).
All of those things have really pushed me to making both personal play and advocating play more of a reality.
Yes, the house still needs cleaning (desperately!). Yes, we still need to run and grab food at the grocery store. Yes we still have But having a mission makes all of those things more tolerable for me, and put into a perspective of being part of a larger goal. I need food to keep up my energy. I need to tidy (okay, also scrub/purge/deep clean) the house so I can find what I need and focus on my projects.
I’ve noticed over the years I coincidentally tend to come up with my “new year’s resolutions” around the pagan New Year of Samhain rather than the Gregorian New Year on January 1, so all of these experiences make it a perfect time to renew and re-assert my goals and energy towards play.
What are some of your goals for renewing yourself and keeping yourself inspired and enriched? Let me know in the comments below.
While high-profile urban tree planting campaigns like New York City’s get a lot of attention, most U.S. cities have experienced a decline in their urban forests, with a loss of about 4 million trees each year, or about “1.3 percent of the total tree stock.” The Nature Conservancy builds the case for recommitting to expanding our urban canopies for health reasons, instead of just letting them slowly diminish.
The many benefits of trees are well-documented: they clean and cool the air, combat the urban heat island effect, capture stormwater, mitigate the risk of floods, boost water quality, and, importantly, improve our mental…
I read a fantastic article written by former U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy about the physical and cognitive damage brought on from isolation and loneliness, which many of us suffer, especially at work. We’re so focused on working, and for long hours, we often forget to stop and check in with each other and learn about each other *raises guilty hand*.
Murthy discusses this in his article in the Harvard Business Review, “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.” He shares some statistics and the impact this loneliness has on our individual work productivity and how that effects businesses’ bottom line.
Rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher. Additionally, the number of people who report having a close confidante in their lives has been declining over the past few decades. In the workplace, many employees — and half of CEOs — report feeling lonely in their roles…
During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness…
Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity…
At work, loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making…
Researchers for Gallup found that having strong social connections at work makes employees more likely to be engaged with their jobs and produce higher-quality work, and less likely to fall sick or be injured…
He also offers a suggestion to combat this: setting up time at work for an “Inside Scoop” session, either as part of the weekly team meeting or other routine meeting.
People were asked to share something about themselves through pictures for five minutes during weekly staff meetings. Presenting was an opportunity for each of us to share more of who we were; listening was an opportunity to recognize our colleagues in the way they wished to be seen.
These sessions quickly became many people’s favorite time of the week, and they were more enthusiastic about participating at staff meetings. People felt more valued by the team after seeing their colleagues’ genuine reactions to their stories. Team members who had traditionally been quiet during discussions began speaking up. Many began taking on tasks outside their traditional roles. They appeared less stressed at work. And most of them told me how much more connected they felt to their colleagues and the mission they served.
This experience rings very true for me on my own team; during our team meetings, one of our senior managers on my team would always make sure there was time in the meeting for everyone to go around the room and share what their weekend plans were. People could say as much or as little as they wanted. But it gave us all a glimpse into their outside lives and helped us all feel closer. We learned about shared interests in music and art, got to hear about personal successes like their cover band scoring a gig or going to a sister’s wedding. We all became closer and would ask each other on the progress of our personal projects, and offer support or gentle teasing if we felt a project wasn’t getting the attention we all thought it deserved, whether it was finishing their degree or sewing a dog bed. It made us all closer and feel more connected.
As the team ebbed and flowed after awhile we stopped doing this practice, and although the change went unnoticed (until now), the change in team dynamics, camaraderie, and effectiveness has shifted.
It would be worth bringing it back.
In an age with more population density and a literally globally connected world thanks to the Internet, we are all experiencing more loneliness. The good news is we also have the power to combat it. It doesn’t have to be formal; as Murthy says:
I share what my office did not as the antidote to loneliness but as proof that small steps can make a difference. And because small actions like this one are vital to improving our health and the health of our economy.
There are other practices that can help combat loneliness too, like offering to help out others, and be willing to accept help when offered. Being proactive is hard, but worth it. And it doesn’t have to be big.
We can start simply by asking how somebody’s weekend was, and actually stopping and being present to listen.
Ash [Perrin] and his team of clowns, musicians and dancers are ‘play specialists’ who work with children in refugee camps across Europe. The aim is to allow the kids “to feel good, feel daft, and feel playful”.
This kind of outreach and human interaction is so powerful, not just from the viewpoint of lifting up people’s spirits, but especially for children’s mental well-being. It is incredibly beneficial to everyone but especially children to provide play and laughter as a respite from a really scary situation, at a time when they need a village of support at the exact time they have lost that village, as their parents try to cope with their new situation as well.
This kind of outreach is crucial especially as the refugee crisis intensified and continues to grow and more families are displaced and their lives put into turmoil. Play is how children process their emotions, explore and understand the world, and this kind of work can help children process trauma.
Unstructured play is crucial as well, but having guided play like this is important in a situation where the rules and conditions have changed for children – they need guidance from others to say “this is allowable here.” It is okay to laugh, to sing, to feel silly.
There are clowns who also work in children’s hospitals in the U.S. and around the world, providing similar services. Being able to go to where the children are, in their time of need, and say, “let’s play!” can be incredibly healing.
Calgary is the Canadian big city that looks and feels most like many US cities: sprawling, ever-expanding, and hugely car-centred. The very idea that the built form of the city could be great for children is likely to prompt a raised eyebrow from urban planners, if not outright derision.
I have just spent a week in the city, at the International Play Association conference, and then interviewing people and visiting sites as part of my Churchill Fellowship project looking at child-friendly urban planning. And my top-of-the-head response is that those urbanists would not be far wrong. But could this be about to change?
I’ll come back to that later. First, a thumbnail sketch of the city’s built form. Three broad types of residential neighbourhood form a classic urban typology for the city.
It’s a cheesy idea in many ways: practice compassion. pay it forward. Do unto others. It seems nice, but in a society where trust has been broken and kindness can be seen as weakness – whether that is a prison or school or work or a city – it can be hard to practice.
However, if there IS an immediate reward – a points system that helps people keep score of their kindness and gives them some immediate positive return – then it makes more sense for people to engage and feed into the compassion system.
Similar programs like dog training and tutoring provide a similar immediate benefit – the trainer is rewarded for training others.
Of course there are long-term personal benefits – less mental stress, larger social network, etc. – but humans typically work for the “right now” and being able to demonstrate the “right now” benefits can be pretty powerful.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year… if you’re a fan of tiny, community-generated parks. PARKing day, which allows citizens to transform parking spots into activated spaces, is this Friday, September 15.
This year, the day features 47 installations throughout the city. Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) says different installations include “everything from arts and crafts to bike repair and snacks,” plus the perennial favorite—spots to sit and relax.
Seattle Department of Transportation has put together a map of all 47 locations, from Lake City to South Park. Unsurprisingly, there’s a dense belt around the center of the city in the downtown, Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Central Area region—including at least two bike repair stations.
A screenshot of the interactive Park(ing) Map for Seattle: