The world of wellness is a big one—as Susie Ellis, the chairwoman and CEO of Global Wellness Institute, knows full well. Through her work with some of the field’s leading experts, she retains a bird’s-eye view on emerging ideas and trends. Here, the member of the Well+Good Council, explores the latest research in happiness. The good news? Putting yourself in a near-permanent good mood is easier than you might imagine.
Many people interested in wellness are now aware of Dan Buettner’s work on the Blue Zones, those rare longevity hotspots around the world. In his first book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who Have Lived the Longest, he and a team of medical researchers and anthropologists pinpointed five places that have a remarkable number of centenarians: people living healthily, and seemingly effortlessly, into their hundreds. The Blue Zone Five are the island of Sardinia in Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; the Nikoya region in Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, CA.
What a brilliant idea it was to analyze these populations to un-riddle what behaviors actually keep people thriving to 100. After exploring where people live the longest, Dan turned his attention to those world hotspots where people report being the very happiest. In his latest book, The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons from the World’s Happiest People, he traveled to happiness havens like Denmark, Costa Rica, Singapore, and Boulder, CO.
Again he distilled their happiness secrets down to nine factors. The evidence shows this is how to live for meaningful, long-lasting happiness:
- Love Someone: Being with the right partner determines 90% of personal happiness.
- Create an Inner Circle: Have at least three friends who you can share your life with and who support you on those bad days. Embrace happy friends, as unhappiness is contagious. Don’t be too tired for people; make a new happy friend and your happiness will shoot up 15%.
- Engage: Get active in your community. Join a group (whether it’s a club, team, or yoga class). Volunteer even if you think you have no time. Show up, give back, do something.
- Learn Likability: Practice kindness, generosity, empathy, and positivity. Be a good and attentive listener.
- Look Forward: Happy people set meaningful goals, create plans to achieve them, and monitor their progress.
- Sleep Seven Plus: Happiness plummets by 30% when you get less than six hours of sleep a night. Get eight, even nine, every night and set up your bedroom as a sleep haven.
- Move Naturally: We’ve engineered physical activity out of our lives. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, but it doesn’t have to be a trendy fitness class. Walk to work or take the stairs. Weave more natural movement in your day.
- Shape Your Surroundings: This is a crucial concept, and it means setting up your home and work—and your financial, social, and inner life—to promote more happiness. This involves everything from finding the right job to creating a home filled with light and plants.
- Find the Right Community: Where you live profoundly impacts your happiness. Safe, walkable communities boost it. And with the mountain of research on the connection between the outdoors and happiness, try to live near green space. Communities that foster bump-into-people connections are key.
The “aha!” of happiness
When you ponder these roadmaps to a long and happy life from the Blue Zone communities, there is one serious “aha” that doesn’t get enough airtime. There is precious little willpower involved in achieving any of this! It’s the environment and the daily rituals that support these habits.
To achieve lifetime wellness, we need to create environments where the deck is stacked in our favor and where the healthy choice is the default. Since we can’t be teleported to Sardinia or Greece every morning (sadly), we need to put in place environments and rituals that help us move, eat healthily, connect with others, sleep, and de-stress more naturally. If we do, we don’t have to try to live longer or happier—we just will.
To achieve lifetime wellness, we need to create environments where the deck is stacked in our favor.
That’s why I’m passionate about the new wellness communities: real estate and living concepts that bake in these key well-being principles, from “front porch” homes designed so you bump into your neighbor to designing your home for healthy light, sleep, air and water. Our latest Global Wellness Institute research shows the new directions that these 750 wellness communities around the world are taking today. And Dan Buettner’s Blue Zone communities are a shining example. The above longevity and happiness lessons above have been applied to nine U.S. communities (from Iowa to Hawaii)—and that has led to double-digit drops in obesity rates along with major increases in activity levels where other public health initiatives have failed.
I spoke with Dan recently. He said the most profound thing he has learned from the Blue Zone populations is that although an outsized number of people there live happily to age 100, they are not trying to live longer or happier. Rather, their natural ecosystem nudges them in that direction every minute of every day. What a revelation that we all need to ponder.
Susie Ellis is the chairwoman and CEO of the Global Wellness Institute. She is also chairman and CEO of the Global Wellness Summit. Recognized as one of the leading authorities on the multi-sector wellness industry, she is frequently cited in major global publications.
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