Want to design your life to make it happier?
Then start taking some tips from New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner, who has spent the last 15 years studying the people around the world who are living the healthiest and happiest lives, and discovering what the rest of us can learn from them.
Buettner just released his latest book, The Blue Zones of Happiness, which reveals the secrets of the world’s happiest places (from Costa Rica to Denmark to Singapore), and shows how to apply their lessons to our own lives.
I recently finished the book (covering research from 141 countries overall), took detailed notes, and came away with 32 proven and actionable ways to make your life happier.
Some of these tips are simple and easy to implement immediately, while others are more relevant when considering major life changes.
I highly recommend reading the full book, but if you are short on time hopefully this cheat sheet will help you add more joy to your life.
The following happiness practices are broken out into four life categories: Social, Work, Self, and Home (with some obvious crossover among the four).
1. Socialize for at least 6 hours per day
Research shows that people are happiest on days when they socialize for at least 6 hours. Unfortunately, Americans socialize for an average of only 41 minutes per day.
2. Live with a loving partner
3. Join a club that aligns with your interests and passions
Research has shown that joining a group that meets even once a month produces the same happiness boost as doubling your income.
This could be a book club, walking club, wine tasting club, faith-based club, sports club, or anything else that is meaningful for you. Prioritize clubs that have members similar to you in age, values, and interests in order to make new friends.
4. Choose a few active relationships with good friends over a lot of casual acquaintances
5. Set a weekly family dinner and invite your extended family
6. Develop daily social rituals
E.g. Impromptu happy hours, pot lucks, or backyard barbecues with friends.
7. Choose social experiences over material things
E.g. Cooking classes, vacations, concerts, and dinners out on the town.
8. Prioritize family and friends over work
At the end of their life, nobody wishes they had worked more.
9. Choose a job that puts your talents to good use and enables you to make a meaningful difference
Work should be something you look forward to, rather than something you dread. It is also important that you believe in the overall mission of your employer.
10. Develop at least 1 true friendship at work
Research shows that having a best friend at work is the biggest determinant of whether you like your job.
11. Work fewer than 40 hours per week
Follow the example set in Denmark, where people work hard but rarely put in more than 37 hours a week. Denmark often ranks as the happiest country in the world, earning the top spot on the World Happiness Report in three of the past five years (and finishing number two and three in the other years).
12. Take up to 6 weeks of vacation time per year
At the very least, use all of your vacation time per year and keep negotiating for more until you’re getting 6 weeks which is the optimal amount for happiness.
13. Maximize savings now to plan for an early retirement
Slow and steady savings bring a sense of purpose and pride as you watch them grow. According to Warren Buffett, the most reliable investment over the long run is a low-cost fund that mimics the S&P500 Index or the whole stock market.
14. Make at least $80–120K per year (depending upon where you live)
After that point, choose pursuits that fuel your soul over your bank account or ego.
15. Shorten your commute to no more than 30 minutes
Ideally choose a job or home location that allows you to walk or bike to work.
16. Unplug after work hours
Put away your phone and email to maximize your down time.
17. Determine (and be able to articulate) your sense of purpose or life mission
Consider a purpose workshop to identify your gifts and passions in life.
18. Eat at least six servings of fruits and vegetables a day
Research shows that people who go from no fruits or vegetables in their diets to 8 servings a day saw a spike in well-being equivalent to getting a new job
19. Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day
20. Choose walking or biking over driving
21. Sleep at least 7.5 hours per night
22. Do something generous
E.g. Be the first to pick up the check, donate to charity, or overtip at the end of your meal.
23. Volunteer your time to help people who have less than you
24. Add a daily dose of humor
Tell a joke, read the comics, watch a funny TV show, or go to a Comedy club.
25. Practice your faith
26. Watch less than 1 hour of TV per day
The happiest people in the world watch less than an hour of TV per day, whereas the least happy people watch 8 hours of TV daily.
27. Meditate at least once per week
28. Live in a medium-size city (about 200,000 people)
Big enough so you can find a job and romantic partner, but not so big to overwhelm you.
29. Live close to your friends or make friends with your neighbors
Prioritize friendly neighborhoods with people who share your stage in life.
30. Live near nature
31. Own a dog
32. Clean your house and minimize clutter
There you have it — 32 of the most impactful lessons on happiness from the statistically happiest places in the world.
Use this list as a menu and adopt the practices that appeal most to you. I suggest you keep the list on your refrigerator or somewhere else to keep it top-of-mind, so you can nudge yourself toward happiness every day.
These are the habits of the happiest people in the world, and I hope they add happiness to your life, too.