How to Grow, Design, and Build Happiness

The Cal Poly Peaks of San Luis Obispo, CA, considered one of the happiest cities in the U.S.

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.

Read the whole interview at The Atlantic.

Beuttner has also recently published a new book, “The Blue Zones of Happiness.”

Do you agree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.