Dan Buettner has travelled the planet looking for ways to make people happy and has found that the best thing one can do is be relaxed about the whole thing. He wrote a book, The Blue Zones of Happiness, that basically says happiness is a journey, not a destination. To be happy keep striving to become a better person by making your day to day more joyful and learning new things. The key is to find something that has meaning to you that you want to pursue and learn more about. The laziness comes in how you do this: don’t stress about it and take your time.
Hamblin: It sounds like you’re arguing for a reframing of the idea of “happiness” toward something bigger—an aggregate of purpose and joy and satisfaction and meaning. We’ve run pieces in the past that touch on, for example, Viktor Frankl and others who have said that life is really about pursuing meaning, and if you pursue happiness as we Americans tend to think about it, you end up going to amusement parks and shopping malls and trying to do things that are supposed to be making you happy but are sucking life out of you.
Buettner: Yes, exactly. So this was our challenge. Even though you can’t measure happiness, you can measure life satisfaction, partly by asking people, and partly by discrete questions about how much you smile or laugh or feel joy. You can also measure people’s sense of purpose, with questions like, “Do you learn new and interesting things every day? Have you used your strength to do what you do best this past week?” So for this book I worked with statisticians to run the numbers on data like this around the world. That pointed us to Singapore, Costa Rica, and Denmark as globally illustrative of facets of happiness. And so I spent a lot of time in those places, as well as a few U.S. cities, and tried to piece together explanations.