The Truth About Happiness

Before we dig deeper into the nature of happiness, I'd like you to take a short quiz. I'm going to introduce you to three people I met during my travels, and I want you to tell me which one you think is happiest.

The first is Jan Hammer, a 42-year-old father of three girls who lives in Århus, the second largest city in Denmark. Each morning at three o'clock, his alarm clock rings, and he rolls out of the warm bed he shares with his wife of 15 years. He eats two fried eggs and toast, washes it down with a mug of coffee, and slips into a blaze orange jumpsuit. By four o'clock he's at the wheel of a high-tech garbage truck and is staring at a NASA-like dashboard with flashing buttons and multiple-view video screens. At each of 59 stops he jumps out of the cab and, with marmot-like zeal, trots from Dumpster to Dumpster and heaves fresh refuse into the hopper with the help of a hydraulic lift. "I don't even smell it anymore," he huffs, sweat seeping through his jumpsuit.

The second person is Norridah Yusoh, a 43-year-old housewife who lives with her husband and three school-age children in an apartment in Singapore. Each morning she dutifully puts on a head scarf, covering her hair as her religion requires; makes her children breakfast; prepares lunch for her husband, an accountant; and sends her family off for the day. After they're gone, she does household chores and, at midday, she might walk to a nearby food market to buy food from various vendors and stop to chat along the way. Some nights after dinner, she goes to the local McDonald's, where she socializes with other Muslim mothers as her children nibble French fries and do homework. Then, each night before bed, as tradition dictates, she kisses her husband's hand to show respect.

The third person is Manuel Uribe, a 45-year-old Mexican man who lives in a working-class neighborhood of Monterrey. Manuel has a knack for trading, a soothing facility for conversation, and a sincere compassion. He's also a big man. In fact, a combination of bad genes and a taste for junk food has ballooned his weight to the point where he's confined to a bed in the living room of his mother's house. This doesn't impede visitors. On any given day, his room is abuzz with people seeking to cut a deal, to get advice, or just to experience a dollop of Manuel's charm. At noon, Manuel's mother brings out his lunch–a lean fillet of meat and a generous helping of steamed broccoli. "It's from the Zone Diet," he says. "I've lost 200 pounds in the last year." Just then the door opens. Claudia Solis, a 30-something secretary, walks in on high heels. She puts a knee on the bed, cranes her lovely neck, and plants a pink-frosted kiss on Manuel's lips.

Published with permission of the National Geographic Society from the book Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way by Dan Buettner. Copyright© 2010 Dan Buettner. Available wherever books are sold.


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