More than that, they all believe that they will become even happier in the years to come. Like many people, they deal with challenges every day. They experience stress, periods of sadness, and grief. Life sometimes deals them a bad hand. They are, in many ways, not so different from the rest of us. Yet somehow they experience a sense of happiness greater than ours. Researchers have a term for this positive, optimistic condition: They call such people thrivers.

What's their secret?

During the past few decades, a small army of psychologists, social scientists, and scholars have asked the same question. Through rigorous experimentation and exhaustive surveys, they've given birth to a new science of happiness, focusing not only on defining the nature of human happiness, but also on discovering ways to improve our chances for personal well-being. Before we strike off around the world to learn the lessons of the world's happiness people, let's turn to some of the leading experts to understand the scientific fundamentals of the field:

Ed Diener, Ph.D., is Joseph R. Smiley Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want.

Ruut Veenhoven, Ph.D., is director of the World Database of Happiness and editor of the Journal of Happiness Studies.

Jim Harter, Ph.D., is chief scientist of workplace management and well-being for Gallup and coauthor of 12: The Elements of Great Managing and Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements.

Bruno S. Frey is a professor of economics at the University of Zurich and research director of CREMA (Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts). He is the author of Happiness: A Revolution in Economics.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi is Distinguished Professor of Psychology and director of the Quality of Life Research Center at the Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California.

In what follows, I've distilled ideas from their books as well as from my interviews with these experts and sorted their answers according to key questions. Here's what they told me.

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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