And Manuel? What was the source of his happiness? Here's what he told me:

"When I was younger, I saw an ad for an electronics company in Texas looking for technicians who could speak English," he said. "But by the time I was 35, I'd lost my savings, my auto parts business, and my wife," he said. "I bought a gun and kept it in my bed, thinking I might use it on myself. Then one night God came to me and told me I had work to do." Manuel went on a diet and started to lose weight. With his mother's consent, he had a hole punched through his bedroom wall, installed double-wide glass doors to admit the world, and unleashed his knack for deal making. Today he receives up to 70 visitors a day—clients seeking to trade everything from blue jeans to Thompson helicopters, cousins and friends stopping by for a chat, or people seeking his business advice. He doesn't have to go looking for social interaction; it comes to him.

As I sat with him one evening, his cell phone rang and he lifted the tiny device to his ear. On the other end, a desperately overweight girl was searching for hope. "If I can turn my life around," he said tenderly, "you can too, dear." When he hung up, an old friend stopped by for a visit. Then another phone call. This time it was news that the website Manuel runs had crashed. In his smooth, unflappable voice, he troubleshot the problem with the webmaster. I sat back and watched. "Does this ever end?" I asked.

"If it did, I'd be dead," he said.

A year later, Manuel married Claudia. With her help, he has lost more than 500 pounds. Life has never been better.

These three individuals—a garbageman with time for his kids, a housewife surrounded by close friends, and a junk dealer on a personal mission of faith—share a common characteristic: They all consider themselves to be "very happy."

Thriving: According to the Gallup organization, "thriving" countries are those whose citizens think positively about their lives and report more happiness, enjoyment, interest, and respect. These countries also report significantly lower rates of health problems, sick days, stress, sadness, and anger.

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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