Lessons in Thriving: 6 Ways to Be Happier


What makes us happy? It’s not wealth, youth, beauty, or intelligence. In fact, most of us have the keys within our grasp.

There are six Thrive Centers, or the physical, social and psychological areas of our lives that have the greatest influence on our well-being. Below, we outline the Thrive Centers and point out a few ways you can optimize your life in each.

1. Community

Do your government and fellow citizens create an environment that helps you to feel good about your life and live out your values? More than income, education level, or religion, the place where you live determines your level of happiness. Surveys from 146 countries, representing most of the world’s population, show that the top factors promoting happiness are: economic freedom, low unemployment rate, tolerance, and quality of government.

  • Community Space
    San Luis Obispo, CA,  planned for many decades to develop more parks, vibrant city centers, outdoor restaurants, public gardens, and pedestrian malls to make it easier for citizens to socialize. The payoff now: their population has the highest well-being of any place in the nation.
  • Quiet Surroundings
    Move to a quiet neighborhood. Humans can get used to an ugly street or subfreezing weather (Minnesotans are happier than Floridians). But humans don’t adapt to noise. In other words, jet planes overhead, buzzing transmission lines, honking traffic, or loud music from next door promise to erode your happiness.
  • Walking Distance
    If it’s easy to access intrinsic goods, you’ll consume more of them. Go to the, type in your address, and see how walkable your neighborhood is in terms of the distances to churches, parks, grocery stores, and museums.
  • Safety
    As we saw in our visit to Singapore, a sense of safety was critical for people’s well-being. Research shows the biggest deterrent to physical activity for some people is perceived danger. You want the outside environment to draw you out, not nudge you in.

(Related Read: Research says walking this much extends your life)

San Luis Obisbo

Farmer’s Market in San Luis Obispo.

2. Workplace

Most of us spend more than half our waking hours at work. No one wants to be miserable most of their day. The happiest people at work are also the happiest people at home.

  • The Right Job
    According to Claremont University psychologist Mihåly Csikszentmihålyi, it’s best to find a job that challenges us to an optimal level — one that’s neither so hard that we give up nor so easy that we get bored. Finding a job that engages your natural talents and gives you constant feedback is a sure way to build happiness.
  • Avoid Long Commutes
    People who commute an hour to work each way would need a 40 percent increase in their monthly wage to be as satisfied with their life as people who walk to the office.
  • Don’t Skip Vacations
    A Danish study shows that we get the most satisfaction from an average of six weeks of vacation per year. The average American worker takes between eight and 16 days!

(Related Read: How changing your work commute can help you live longer)
(Related Read: Why having a best friend at work makes you more productive)

3. Social Life

Socializing more is one of the most dependable, universal means to a thriving life. As we saw in Denmark, having trustworthy friends is critical. Mexico showed us that surrounding ourselves with friends that have a sense of humor can soothe stress and hardship. Some ideas to create the right kind of social bonds:

  • Upgrade Your Social Network
    Identify which of your friends tend to be most positive and most negative; this includes how lonely, depressed, trustworthy or funny they are. You’re more likely to thrive by cultivating relationships with those that are more positive.
  • Create Your Own Moai
    Create a group of mutually committed friends. Okinawans call these groups moai. A moai is a group of people who travel through life together, share in the joys of life and support each other during the down times.  As part of an experiment in well-being, the town of Albert Lea, a small community in southern Minnesota, created some 70 moais based on shared interests. They made a commitment to create a bond through walking for 10 weeks, a year later, more than half of the moais are still together.
  • Marry the Right Person
    For most of us, choosing the right mate is one of the biggest reasons for our happiness. How do you find the right person? Look more than skin deep. Marry someone similar to you. Try marriage training. And be realistic about the impact of parenthood. Also, saying something positive to your spouse keeps a marriage vital.

(Related Read: Moai—This Tradition is Why Okinawans Live Longer, Better)

Moai members from Okinawa, where moai groups often extend for a lifetime.

4. Financial Life

Ed Diener, author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, says that the key to greater well-being is to have money but not to want it too much. The best long-term strategy for financial affairs puts in place the disciplines and mechanisms that help you save mindlessly and spend thoughtfully. Here are some ideas:

  • Enroll in Automatic Savings or Investment Plans
    Make sure you’re subscribed to your employer’s retirement plan if one is offered.  If you can save just sixteen dollars a week beginning at age 18 and invest it in an S&P 500 Index fund, you will retire a millionaire at age 65 (given historical rates of return). You probably won’t miss money that you don’t ever see in your checking account.
  • Avoid Credit Cards
    The average American household has a debt balance of more than $8,000 on a whopping eight credit and debit cards! When you pay cash for a purchase, actually counting out those bills, you feel the purchase and are less likely to spend frivolously.

5. Home

Set up your home in a way that will enhance your well-being just by living in it. Your home should nudge you into behaviors that favor happiness and away from behaviors that generate discontent. Some tips to thrive inside your home:

  • Designate a “Flow” Room
    Mihaly Csikszentmihaly describes “flow” as a state of engagement in which you’re using your talents, optimally challenged, consummately interested, and able to let time melt away.  Taking a cue from family rooms in Denmark, you could establish a room where it’s easy to play an instrument, take part in a hobby, read a book, or play a game with family.
  • Grow a Garden
    Several studies show that gardening lowers stress hormones. Hoeing, planting, weeding, fertilizing and harvesting all include regular, low-intensity, range-of-motion exercise.
  • Optimize Your Bedroom for Sleep
    Your bedroom should be primarily for sleep. Free it from TVs, computers, brightly glowing clocks, and other distractions. Minimize the use of the alarm clock — you’ll feel best if you let your body wake you up.

6. Self

Train yourself in a few areas that will yield well-being benefits for the long run. Take time to recognize your values, strengths, talents, passions, and gifts. Some ways to create a thriver’s mind-set:

  • Personal Mission Statement
    Start by articulating your personal mission statement. What is your reason for getting up in the morning? Richard Leider, author of The Power of Purpose suggests that in order to know our core sense of purpose, you first need to have a clear understanding of your core values.
  • Develop Your People Skills
    Learning people skills such as how to build consensus, how to listen constructively, and how to feel compassion for others sets you up with tools to build and maintain social circles.
  • Volunteer
    Volunteering is one of the best ways to boost your happiness because it takes your focus off your own problems and increases your sense of pride in your community or social network. Volunteers tend to weigh less, to feel better, and to have less chance of suffering a heart attack. Start small. As you feel the benefits, research shows that your involvement will likely grow on its own accord.

Excerpt from Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way  by Dan Buettner, prepared by UWriterPRO

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