How can you benefit from the insights of these researchers and thrive in your daily life? The answer goes back to the quiz you took at the beginning of this chapter. As the stories about the garbageman, housewife, and bedridden wheeler dealer demonstrate, happiness comes in many shapes and sizes. Although we might think we know what we need to be happy, such as physical beauty, financial success, or the recognition of our peers, the scientific evidence points in a different direction. The true sources of happiness, the experts say, are deeper patterns of behavior and thinking in our lives—patterns that we can adjust if we just put our minds to it.
Fortunately, we don't have to start this process of change from scratch. As we'll see in the chapters that follow, scientists have already identified places around the world where people today are experiencing levels of happiness and wellbeing that are probably higher than yours or mine. All we have to do is figure out how they do it, and then adapt their lessons to fit our lives.
In pursuit of this quest, the National Geographic Society sent me around the world to visit four of the happiest regions on three continents to see if I could find common denominators—a common recipe for human happiness. In each place I talked to writers, economists, social scientists, demographers, physiologists, anthropologists, a prime minister, and ordinary people to piece together the local formula for happiness. I examined which government policies seemed to yield the greatest well-being, which cultural norms encouraged the most happiness, and which personal habits and environmental factors favored the greatest life satisfaction. I used a science-based approach to probe the one sure source of knowledge about happiness: the people who are verifiably experiencing it. In the chapters that follow, you may be surprised by what people told me. You might find their stories of happiness hard to believe, especially when they spring from conditions that are difficult or challenging. But in the end I think you'll discover that these stories will reveal new ways of thinking, and that the lessons they offer can help you get more joy out of each day—and ultimately set up your life so that true, authentic, and lasting happiness can ensue.