Amy McManus, LMFT
10 Ways to Change Your Life and Be Happy the Blue Zone Way
by Amy McManus, LMFT
Many of us have traveled on vacation to a lovely place where we felt happy and carefree. We think, “If I could just stay here forever I would be happy!” Could this be true?
Is the secret to happiness actually location, location, location?
Last month’s release of The Blue Zones of Happiness, by Dan Buettner, and this month’s cover article in National Geographic, “These Are the World’s Happiest Places”, by the same author, have sparked an international conversation about the effect of location on happiness.
The author tells us there are three major components of happiness: 1. Day-to-day pleasure; 2. Purpose or meaning; and 3. Pride, or life satisfaction.
Buettner then describes the lives of three different people that illustrate how their different countries embody these ideals. Costa Rica, where the pura vida ethos leads to day-to-day pleasure, Denmark, where the government supports the population in finding lives of meaning and purpose, and Singapore, where a majority of citizens score high on life satisfaction.
So, what if we don’t happen to be citizens of Costa Rica, Denmark, or Singapore?
WHAT IF WE DON’T LIVE IN ONE OF THE BLUE ZONES OF HAPPINESS?
Here are some of the ways the author and his team of experts suggest that you can adapt the lessons from the Blue Zone countries to increase your own personal happiness, without moving to another city, town, or country.
- Nurture your intimate relationship.
Studies show that our intimate relationship can account for up to 90% of our happiness level. This is certainly good news for couples therapists–our work is critical for personal happiness!
- Develop daily and weekly social rituals with family and friends.
The happiest people spend 5-6 hours a day socializing. That’s a far cry from the 40 minutes a day the average American spends socializing with friends and family. Time spent on social media doesn’t count!
Develop a circle of three close friends whom you can talk to after a difficult day. This is another suggestion that is especially relevant for therapists, whose work is so emotionally demanding.
- Develop healthy habits.
The following habits will not only make you healthy, but also have been shown to significantly increase happiness:
- Eat six servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day
- Get 30 minutes of exercise at least four times a week
- Sleep 7 ½ to 9 hours every night.
- Engage in your community.
Join a club, play on a team, join a civic organization, participate in faith-based groups. Find your tribe.
- Change the way you work.
Two-thirds of Americans report that they have too much stress at work. One of the things that most improves quality of work experience, is having a best friend at work. So–cultivate friendships with your co-workers to improve your job satisfaction. If you are in solo private practice, form consulting groups for support.
Volunteering can incorporate some of the above ideas–you can find your tribe, socialize, and even create a tradition of volunteering with your family.
Donate money to causes you believe in. Research shows that giving away money can make you happier than spending it on yourself. (Unless, of course, you are using it to buy fruits and vegetables.)
- Get your finances in order.
If your finances are a mess, you are in good company–one-third of Americans don’t pay their bills on time, and one-quarter of Americans have no savings whatsoever.
Buettner makes the following suggestions:
- Make paying down your credit card debt a priority
- Track your spending
- Pay with cash or debit card.
- Create meaningful goals and regularly measure your progress.
This is the time of year when creating goals (or “resolutions”) is already on everyone’s mind. Don’t limit yourself to goals like “get 10 more clients”, or “lose 10 pounds”; have goals for all of the other areas listed above as well. Include goals like joining a club, or having an extended family dinner once a month. Be sure to set up a time frame for measuring your progress.
- Take your time in school
Danes often don’t finish college until they are 30; they take time off to travel and explore careers. In America, this behavior is often alarming to parents and friends. Dan Buettner tells us, “…among the happiest Danes are those in their late 20’s and 30’s who are in the marriage market and transitioning from school to their first job”.
In my experience, 20- and 30-somethings in the U.S. are often confused, depressed, isolated and stressed out. Maybe Denmark has something to teach us about this important phase of life.
- Create a Hygge Room.
Hygge is a Danish word that translates roughly to “coziness”–“the feeling you get when you tuck in around a candlelit table with good drinks, friends, and conversation.”
Designate a room or a place in your house that is just for books, hobbies and games–no TV or other screens. Light some candles, play some games, and enjoy the conversation with friends and family.
Other suggestions to make your home a place that fosters happiness:
Have a garden, or some lovely houseplants.
Open your home to as much natural light as possible; buy some full-spectrum light bulbs to brighten dark areas.
Create a meditation space.
Optimize your bedroom for sleep. (Learn more about good sleep habits)
Put seating on your front porch, so you can spend time there socializing with neighbors and passers-by.
The Blue Zones of Happiness tells us that place matters. When a town or even a country is organized to promote behaviors that lead to happiness, we don’t have to rely on willpower alone to implement and stick with these “happy habits”. Nonetheless, there are things we can do to set up our personal lives and environments in ways that will make us happier. And the new year is the perfect time to begin!
Amy McManus, LMFT, specializes in communication between parents and teens. Amy previously worked for four years as a school counselor in various high schools in Los Angeles. She has raised four teenagers of her own, and is married to a high school teacher and administrator. Amy’s weekly blog (http://www.thrivetherapyla.com/blog/) offers parenting tips and other mental health information for parents and teens. You can contact Amy at email@example.com.