One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves is: How can I be happy?
Well, if you’ve wondered this before, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, this question has been plaguing community leaders and even governments for some time. Dan Buettner is a National Geographic Fellow, expert on happiness, and author of the book Blue Zones. We caught up with Buettner at the World Government Summit in Dubai in this Facebook Live, to learn a little more about what it takes to be happy.
Buettner explains that there are three strands that come together to form happiness:
- How you evaluate your life
- How you experience your day to day life
- Healthy life expectancy
Healthy life expectancy is what Buettner calls the “Siamese twin” of happiness; it feeds into happiness levels but is also being a requisite for happiness.
People tend to be happier if they have a long, healthy life expectancy. Roughly 20 percent of life expectancy is determined by genes and 80 percent determined by lifestyle and environment. While it may seem good that the 80 percent category seems flexible, it isn’t that simple. A community cannot easily become healthier in the long term without a system that supports them. As with individuals, short term success, for example with dieting, can happen sometimes – but long-term success is rare.
This means that there needs to be a structural change. Buettner explains that cities have been built for cars, not for humans. With that, people are spending much more time sedentary in vehicles rather than being active. Changes in city design, such as bike lanes, sidewalks with trees, and curbs that aren’t too high, can make enormous differences in the community.
Diet is another huge factor. It’s easy to eat unhealthily, with candy and junk food available just about everywhere you turn. This brings in some interesting questions for cities. Should they be able to determine how much junk food is let in the city, or advertised? Is it for the good of those in the community, or should individuals make the decisions about their lifestyles?
Those are just some of the questions that come along with considering what it means to be happy and live in a happy place. But Buettner doesn’t leave us completely pensive. He noticed that one food has been linked to living longer: beans!