Some of you might remember that a few months ago I wrote a post entitled Choosing Joy. In it, I discussed my personal happiness and how sometimes tempering expectations and choosing to be happy even when you don’t feel like it has been helping me cope with the challenges of motherhood. Well, about a week later, a publishing firm reached out to me to see if I would be interested in reading their new book about happiness and writing a review. They told me right up front that I wasn’t required to write a positive review and they wanted me to be honest, so I figured I didn’t have anything to lose, right? I’d never done anything like it, so why not.
A few weeks later the book showed up at my doorstep and I’ll be honest, I had mixed emotions. Part of me was excited about seeing what the book had to say, but the other part of me was worried it would be some hokey volume with vague instructions on how to become a happier person based on the experiences of some uncredentialed “wellness expert.” So I cracked it open and was immediately relieved of any worries. You see, the book, entitled The Blue Zones of Happiness, was written exactly how I had hoped… It’s a scientific approach to the subject, with concrete numbers and straight forward advice on how to nudge yourself into living a lifestyle that will ultimately make you happier.
That first day the book came I could hardly put it down. I ignored the housework and my ever present to-do list and instead read the first two-thirds of the book in one sitting. I was captivated by the ideas inside. In the first part of the book, Dan introduces the reader to some of the happiest places on Earth – Costa Rica, Denmark, and Singapore – and the people that live there. I always love learning more about other cultures, but this was a whole new level, because not only did I learn new and interesting things, but at the end of each chapter you get a list of concrete lessons you can learn from that culture and how to apply them in your life. Some of my favorite lessons came from the chapter about Danish culture, including how to “avoid the status trap,” “empower your children,” and “plan purchases, savor shopping.”
The second section of the book is all about designing whole communities to promote the happiness of their citizens. In a positive trend across the world, community leaders are deciding that the pursuit of happiness is an important endeavor. I found this section interesting, and as pleasantly fact-based as the previous section, but it’s definitely aimed at community leaders. I hope someday in the future I can attempt to effect change at a community level (Leslie Knope style), but for the time being I’m more focused on things I can do in the here an now. Which leads me to the third section…
This last part of the book focuses on how you can nudge yourself into happiness at several levels, beginning with your community and working all the way down to your inner life. This section is chalk full of interesting lessons and tidbits to help you achieve happiness. That doesn’t mean that they’re all simple. Just like choosing joy, some of these practices sound simple, but are actually quite difficult to carry out. These include things like finding a job that suits you (which, if you’ve spent a lot of time, effort, and money to get to your current job could seem entirely overwhelming), knowing your purpose (which is related, but not the same as finding a job that suits you), and learning the art of likability. All easier said that done. Other lessons actually are quite simple. Some of my favorites include prioritizing friends and family, joining a club, bringing nature into your home, decluttering (!), limiting screens, and favoring front porches over the deck out back. All of these things are simple, but combined could have an overwhelming effect on your happiness. You never know who you might meet by joining a club or making yourself available for conversation to your neighbors by being present in front of your house instead of hiding out back.
In case you couldn’t tell, I really enjoyed this read. If you’ve ever found yourself thinking about your own happiness, wondering what you can do to get yourself out of a rut, or you’re simply open to and interesting read, then I highly recommend this book. It was a quick read and incredibly constructive, and well-worth your time.