So what's the answer to the quiz? Which of these three people is the happiest? You've probably already guessed the answer:All three of them are happy—so happy, in fact, that, according to the latest research, they are almost certainly three of the happiest people in three of the happiest places on the planet.

How can that be?

Let's go back to the garbageman. I met Jan at six o'clock on a gray morning in the alley behind my hotel in Århus. He was emptying Dumpsters into his behemoth garbage truck. He greeted me heartily, and I could instantly tell that he was a nice guy. Pulling off a dirty cotton glove, he offered me his plump hand, which emitted the sweet-sour smell of his profession.

Later, seated in his cab, Jan punched the accelerator, and we sped through the misty Danish dawn. "You can't find a better job than delivering garbage," he whispered conspiratorially "I work only 21 hours a week and make $80,000 a year. I drive a Mercedes and take my family to Greece each year." I looked over at him. He was wearing red square-rimmed glasses, Nike running shoes, and a bracelet that read "World's Most Beautiful Garbage Man." By eight o'clock he'd be done with his route and back at the garbage truck depot, he said. After a shower, he'd hit the gym and spa provided by his workers' union. Some days, he might go to a second job where he worked as a freelance bricklayer. There he would make another $60,000 a year.

More important than the money, though, was the satisfaction he felt with his life. "I'm like the yolk of the egg!" he said, using a Danish expression for "fat and happy." In his community, there was no stigma attached to the "garbage delivery" business. On weekends, he'd socialize with the dentists and lawyers who lived on his block. Home by three o'clock every afternoon, he had time to help his three daughters with their homework. Three nights a week he'd go to a local gym, where he'd put on shorts, sneakers, a red sports shirt, and a whistle to coach his daughters' indoor soccer team. His life was rewarding and full.

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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