278 of 287 people found the following review helpful
I received an advance copy of "Thrive, finding happiness the Blue Zones way" and was quite excited to read it. However, I quickly became disappointed.
As many previous reviewers have mentioned, there is A LOT of filler detailing the author's personal experiences while visiting the various "happiest places on earth". Quite honestly, the book reads as more of a travelogue, describing his experiences while traveling to research the subject, than a book on why the happiest people are so happy.
The actual information about the happiness factors, for which most people will buy this book, would have been more appropriately written up as a magazine article - and it would have been a pretty interesting article. However, there just isn't enough information for a full book, which is likely why the author has fluffed it up with stories about his experiences while visiting and traveling in the various countries (this is the travelogue aspect, which is about 2/3's of the book)
The findings, which detail whatever aspects of the country, town or people in it that make them so happy, are summarized at the end of each chapter, and then a final summary at the end of the book (again, all would have readily fit into an article as a much more concise read). I will outline the summaries below (so if you DON'T want to know now and would rather find out by reading the book, read no further!)
To me, many of these have a major "Duh!" factor, and don't really reveal things that you can easily change or quickly improve. They are the kind of things that would require a major lifestyle change, a new job, moving to a new area, etc.) Additionally, you will find that some of the recommendations conflict with others - in one country security is more important than a sense of freedom, while in another a sense of freedom is what counts...
If you are round people who are more positive in general, you will become more positive
If you are around trustworthy people and in an environment you trust you will be happier
If you are in a society of tolerance and freedom, (but where most of the people share your ethnic and cultural background) you will be happier
If you are in an area or society of social and economic equality rather than large disparity of "have's and have not's" you'll be happier
If you live somewhere that cares and provides for both the old and the young you'll be happier
If you have a job you enjoy and you don't work too much, and take time to volunteer you'll be happier
If you have activities that you enjoy doing and live in an area with many things to do you'll be happier
If you have a cozy home and frequently socialize with others you'll be happier
If your taxes are used to help facilitate the above, even if it means having most of your income going towards taxes, you'll be happier.
Security is more important than the feeling of freedom, if you have security you'll be happier
If basic culture is created by government: everyone has a home, good education, a good living wage, and the necessary social and community services people are happier
Status equality makes people happier
Living your values makes people happier
Living somewhere warm and sunny makes people happier
Having a personal sense of freedom makes people happier
Enjoying yourself and laughing a lot makes people happier
Having just enough money to meet your needs makes people happier
Having strong spiritual faith and being grateful for what you have makes people happier
Over-socializing makes people happier
A strong sense of family and friends makes people happier
San Luis Obispo, California
Citizen empowerment and sense of community makes people happier
Anti-smoking policies makes people happier
Minimal signage around town and lots of parks and green spaces makes people happier
Prohibiting drive through restaurants makes people happier
Favoring pedestrians over cars and having a town square makes people happier
Being involved in the arts or supporting the arts makes people happier
Being able to work at home or work for yourself makes people happier
Last Chapter Summary:
The author takes his findings from the four countries above and groups them together into six categories...
Community - does it help you feel good and support your values?
Workplace - do you enjoy your job and not spend too much time there?
Social life - Do you have friends and family you spend quality time with and that are positive influences?
Financial life - Do you have just enough without over extending and a bit of savings, too?
Home - Do you have a positive living environment that helps you feel good?
Self - Do you have the education, sense of purpose and healthy lifestyle needed to support happiness? Do you have a sense of gratitude, openness, loving, and appreciation of the arts?
So there you have it, the main points summed up. If you enjoy travelogues and stories of personal experiences and encounters, than you will likely enjoy this book. However, if you're seeking a more informational, resource rich guide to personal happiness you may want to look elsewhere.
206 of 224 people found the following review helpful
Thrive has at its core a very interesting idea. Based on a number of surveys, Dan Buettner identified four areas of the world which are each known for their high happiness levels. These are Denmark, Singapore, Monterrey Mexico, and San Louis Obispo California. That's not to say that people in Singapore are happier than various locations in Europe and the US - but Buettner wanted to examine a range of cultures, so he was looking at "the happiest in their region".
Buettner began with Denmark. Apparently the reason people are happy there is that they are all white, rich, and have self-funded a beautiful social network, sort of like setting up an ideal boarding school that you live in. Oh, and their motto is "well it could be worse". I oversimplify a bit :) But it does seem to boil down to these ideas. Everyone feels like their neighbors are just like them, they all have good money and job opportunities, and they are OK with paying high taxes because it invests right into their fairly small community. Denmark has about 5.3 million people - smaller than New York City.
Now, to be fair, the schools in Denmark encourage them to learn fun, artistic skills. They have beautiful nature around them, they all enjoy riding bikes and stay healthy. Their economy runs smoothly. And again, with their way of life being "This is good enough, be happy it's not sliding downhill," they end up being content with what they have. Which certainly is a lesson that everybody can learn. The average happiness level here was 8/10.
On to Singapore. This is perhaps an "opposite case" to Denmark. Rather than being all the same, Singapore has many different cultures intermingled. Because many of these were foreigners, the government felt the best way to have coexistence happen smoothly was to create strict laws about everything. No gum. No trash. Every person felt as if they could strive and succeed, by following those rules. They feel safe, and that makes them serene.
Where in Denmark they think about how things are OK compared to the alternatives, in Singapore they focus on the things they can get. They're jealous of those with more money and drive to get that money for themselves. Buettner talks to people with 300 shoes who go to wild parties. Where in Denmark it seemed people were low key and quiet, here it's about glitz and glamour. Interestingly, this "happiest place" in the Asian region is only 6.6 on the happiness scale.
On to Mexico. This is yet another situation entirely. The Mexicans feel their government is incredibly corrupt and have no sense of security there. They certainly do not have lots of money or ample jobs. Instead, what makes the Monterrey group happy is family, community, and religion. They have the sense that they are all in this together - this bleak state - and as long as they can laugh, sing, and enjoy what they have, they can get through it. Their average income is $11,000 a year - certainly not enough to buy 300 pairs of shoes, but enough to stay fed and sheltered. Their community is their main source of support. They don't crave high def TVs or fancy cars. They enjoy dancing together at the local celebration.
It's worth noting though that Monterrey is the most wealthy area of Mexico. So they know they are better off than all other Mexicans, which can certainly effect how content you are with what you have.
Last we come to San Louis Obispo. We have circled around to a rich, exclusive area again. Apparently students who go to school here are warned that while they will fall in love with the beauty of the surrounding nature and the great arts and social scene of the town, that it's unlikely they'll be able to afford living here. It is a wealthy retreat that many desire to join. People come here who love the scenery and who appreciate the artistic offerings. It is almost back to the "boarding school" idea, that you have a lot of money and you use that money to create an enclosed world of your dreams.
Buettner tries to sum up these four different locations with some ideals that we can all live by. Some of them make sense. If you're self employed, you have some of the highest chances of happiness. Sure, because you can work on what you want to work on, you can direct your own life, and you reap all the rewards. In Okinawa there is no word for "retire". People do not stop doing what they love just because they hit an arbitrary age limit. Sure, they might change their interests over time, but they stay engaged and active in them.
Other suggestions seem very iffy though. "Join a church"? While in Mexico their religion gives them a common support system to fight the government's corruption, the book also says that there are many very religious locations that are the most miserable on earth. It hardly seems that going to church, if you're not interested, can inject happiness into your life. Quite the opposite.
Also, Buettner apparently is against living together before marriage. He says people more likely to live together are more likely to divorce. Sure, and you can also say that people who are adamantly against living together are also the ones who will stay in abusive relationships because "divorce is wrong". With stats saying that almost 1/3rd of women are abused by their husband or boyfriend, I wouldn't be so quick to jump on the "stay together at all costs" bandwagon.
I also had an issue with how gleefully Buettner seemed to enjoy finding wealthy people in these different locations and living the high life with them. I had to wade through details of sake parties, Champagne parties, and the famous people he met. I really didn't read the book to learn about Buettner's party life. I wanted to know how average people lived - not how the rich and famous hob-nobbed with nobility.
Still, there was a lot of valuable information here to learn from the different cultures. You could of course take away the thought that being wealthy can buy you happiness and let you live somewhere that's beautiful and well taken care of. You can imagine that the fun of making money and buying lots of things can keep fueling your happiness. The book seems to say all of these things. However, I like to look at the various scenarios a bit differently.
In Denmark, they were all happy with what they had. Sure, again, they were wealthy! They were in a calm, no-ethnic-strife, beautiful location. But even so, a key part of their contentment was that they appreciated what they had, and did not chase additional wealth or items.
In Singapore, a key seemed to be that they felt safe and secure. One woman said she could go walking through the city at midnight and feel no concern. Their world was organized to help them thrive, based on their energies and efforts.
In Monterrey, the community provided their pleasure. They thrilled with family and friends, spending time together, and simply having fun. It wasn't about money or buying things - it was about relationships.
In California, it was about appreciating natural beauty and the arts. If you give yourself time to walk quietly through the forest, and then relax in the evening by listening to beautiful music, it brings joy to your heart.
I recommend reading Thrive to learn more about these different groups of people, but be aware that sometimes you'll have to sift through what Buettner is saying in order to figure out what is important to you.
57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
Having read The Blue Zones and learned a lot from that book, I was eager to read this book. And it hasn't disappointed. Knowing the one area, San Luis Obispo here in California which he writes about, and knowing what he writes is true, made me believe the rest of the book as well.
Although his chapter on Denmark/Danmark was interesting for what it didn't say. Yes, they pay something around 68% in taxes, but in 2010 they unlike many countries, are still heavily Caucasian, and many studies show that when your neighbor looks more like you and has the same values etc that its not as hard to deny them needed services, and in doing so you have a more stable country/society.
Same with the other countries like Mexico and Singapore which are also covered in the book. Although I wonder if Mexico which has been in the news so much and has regions where drug killings are the norm, would be seen as a happy country in late 2010.
I recommend The Blue Zone book more because it covers many more countries and shows that the simpler the lifestyle the happier people tend to be. Am also intrigued that in most happy countries people ride bikes more, eat simpler native foods, sleep more, and are more family oriented. Something Americans are just now rediscovering.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Mr. Buettner, New York Times author of the bestseller "The Blue Zones" used happiness research and National Geographic's dime to identify and visit the four exceedingly happy places on earth; Jutland Peninsula in Denmark, Singapore, Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, and San Louis Obispo of California. Through interactions and interviews with "writers, economists, social scientists, demographers, physiologists, anthropologists, prime ministers, and even comedians" in these regions, he concocted a list of "subtle changes in your surroundings" to set the reader on the path of a happy and fulfilled life. Many myths are debunked along this journey. Not only does more money only marginally impact happiness, any amount beyond the capacity to obtain the necessities of life is deemed as unnecessary and often harmful to the mental state. Scientific evidence has shown that "physical beauty, financial success, or the recognition of peers" are not true sources of happiness.
"During the past 35 years, while Americans have worked to increase our income by 70 percent and the size of our houses have doubled, we've become no happier as a nation." In the last chapter, Mr. Buettner delves into the "subtle" changes to improve your happiness. Except, most of these "subtle" recommendations were anything but subtle. If you live in Moldova, move to Denmark?! Okay, so the author admitted most of us do not have that luxury. So instead, limit your shopping hours and your workweek which means your high consumption life style will experience a drastic reduction (hardly a subtle change). Other recommendations are meant for policy makers, not individuals: Grant maternity leave, provide more community space, e.g. parks, vibrant city centers, restaurants etc. Some of the advices are not widely applicable: Consider not having children, pay off your house, avoid credit cards. While paying off your house and credit cards is a great idea, most people should focus first on paying off credit card debt with loan shark level interest rates than paying off home mortgages.
Many of the practical tips were not covered in Mr. Buettner's journey to the four happiest world regions, and yet, they mysteriously made the cut in the "Conclusion" chapter. Each chapter had a nicely summarized takeaway lessons section, and Mr. Beuttner would have served the readers better by leaving all of the advice to these sections alone. This would have been a four star book sans the "Conclusions" chapter. Still a very useful and entertaining book.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Dan Buettner researched "happiness hot spots" for this book - Denmark, Singapore, Mexico and San Luis Obispo. Very different places indeed, yet the people living there are considered the happiest in the world. So Mr Buettner decided to find out what causes happiness among these people.
He starts with Denmark. Denmark has the highest suicide rate in the world but the people are the happiest. Seems like an odd contradiction, but the theory is the Danish report suicides honestly whereas other countries do not. I have no way of knowing if it's true, but I would venture to guess the Danes don't know if it's true, either.
And when you compare the Danish lifestyle with the American lifestyle, there's just no comparison. Lifelong health care, free education, being paid to go to the university is just something the Danes take for granted. If you're an American, you know that none of these things happen in the USA. So what if you pay 68% of your wages in taxes? You're actually ahead of the game compared to the USA with taxes and health insurance taken out of your paycheck.
And that's where I find it hard not to consider. Mr Buettner talks about the people in Mexico being so happy, but they have a very high crime rate. It would seem to me that would make you less happy to live in a place with a high crime rate, where violent and bloody drug wars go on, but apparently the Mexicans don't let it stop them from being happy.
There are a few good points, but you probably know them. Money, prestige, titles will not make you happy. Living in a huge house or driving the most expensive car won't make you happy. But exactly what will make you happy? A committed relationship, work that is fulfilling, and feeling secure is some of what makes a person happy. It is totally at odds with the high divorce rate and the high desire for material goods in the USA. Most of us want the expensive house, car and clothes (notice I say most, not everybody does) and wanting those things makes happiness almost impossible to achieve. After all, the fully loaded 2010 Lexus is "old" on January 1, 2011. There's always a new gizmo to buy.
So while I know what makes people in other countries happy, I'm not really sure how to use that knowledge to improve my own (or anybody else's) life. Many people are unhappy in their jobs, but they can't just quit and get re-educated for a job that is a better fit for them. Or just quit and take something with less pay or less benefits.
I recommend this book if you want to see how other countries judge happiness, but for me, it didn't give me the tools I need to become happier. Perhaps I'm just a grumpypants, but there you are. You may get something totally different from the book.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
What is it about some places that make them happier than other places? Author Buettner identifies Denmark, Singapore, and Monterrey Mexico as the happiest places on their respective continents, and then throws in San Luis Obispo, California as the second happiest place in the U.S. (The happiest is Provo, Utah, but for some unknown reason he didn't go there, physically or otherwise.)
On the surface, this seemed at first to be a book about how we need socialism to be happy, but its analysis is a lot deeper than that. The question for me, and apparently also for the author, is what is it about these particular social environments that make their people happier than most other places on Earth no matter where they are on the political spectrum.
A follow-up question, is how can we bring that happiness to other places? One of the keys to happiness in Denmark and Singapore, for example, is minimal ethical corruption. And that makes tons of sense. If the tax rate in Denmark is 68% of income, in return for a wide variety of social benefits and a real economic safety net for citizens, then the key to that working is trust by the people that the money taken in taxes truly will be spent efficiently in providing the promised services.
Personally, I think that's why folks in the U.S. are currently so unhappy with the idea of bigger government - because there is very little trust that added taxes would be returned in added benefits.
Singapore addressed that issue head on, deciding corruption could only be reduced from the top. This is done via a combination of high pay for top administrators (so they won't need bribes), and strict enforcement of stringent laws. The price is freedom, but Singapore feels people are happier in a place where a woman can walk anywhere at night without being bothered, than in a place with a viable two party electoral process. In other words, personal safety and economic freedom may be more important to happiness than other freedoms.
In Denmark, the population is less diverse, achieving the same goal via shared Protestant values. Denmark aims to be a place where few are rich, and even fewer are poor.
Singapore has more truly wealthy people, but also ensures work opportunities and other non-consumption benefits for the poor (called workfare, not welfare.)
Mexico is a bit of a special case, in that corrupt officials are still a factor, but people in Monterrey have found ways to be happy anyway, through family, friends, and faith. Like the Danes, they work hard, but not too hard. And they know how to laugh in situations that might otherwise bring tears. They also illustrate that being rich only adds to happiness up to a fairly low point.
I was happy to see the author bring this home with a final section on how to improve your own happiness. One suggestion is obvious: move where folks are happy. More usefully, we are given many suggestions on how to make any place healthier and happier (such as making it easy for folks to walk and bike, and harder for them to smoke or to load up on unhealthy food), as well as many suggestions for making our individual lives happier (such as finding work we love that doesn't involve long commutes.)
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Writing up long drawn out interviews with a select individuals is one way to fill up a book, but there isn't any hard science in it. I could tell after about page 3 that this book was more likely to be a fluff piece rather than a book by an actual researcher with a scientific background. For example, the book smacks of survivorship bias. The author only goes to places where people are said to be happier than most and haphazardly attempts to document their habits and culture. This in and of itself tells you absolutely nothing because there may be thousands of other places with identical attributes and habits where people are less happy. The only way to identify habits that may be the cause of the happiness is to study both happy and unhappy places and look for the differences. This logic flaw that many researchers fall victim to is discussed in the book Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Taleb, where he describes the survivorship bias in The Millionaire Next Door. In TMND, the authors focus mainly on millionaires and not so much people who aren't millionaires. Taleb points out that it is entirely possible that many of the nonmillionaires may have had the same attributes as the millionaires, so in order to identify the reasons some became millionaires you would have to study both groups and find out what sets them apart. I still like the TMND, however Taleb has some valid criticisms and I think this book suffers from the same logic flaws as TMND only worse.
One of the people the author profiles as being happy is a man named Manuel so overweight he is living on a bed in the living room of his mother's house. At one point Manuel had bought a gun and contemplated suicide. I'm glad to hear that Manuel turned his life around and lost 500 pounds, but I am flummoxed as to why the author chose to include Manuel in this particular book. If I were writing a book on happiness someone who had been contemplating suicide not that long ago would not be my first pick, and probably not even my 6th billionth pick, to highlight in the introductory chapter on people who ooze happiness.
One of the other people the author highlights as being happy is a wife who every night kneels before her husband, kisses his hand and begs forgiveness whether or not she has done anything wrong that day. With almost 7 billion people on the planet as of this writing, I find it puzzling that a woman who begs forgiveness each day for crimes she didn't commit and a post suicidal man who must have weighted over 600 pounds at one point are some of the best examples of happiness the author could come up with for this book. I mean I could just go out and interview some random neighbors and come up with better examples than this.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Dan Buettner is an excellent philosophic travel writer, or if you prefer, writer who thinks a lot and moves around. The book is enjoyable if taken in that spirit. The author goes to some interesting places, meets some interesting people, has some interesting thoughts and weaves it into an interesting narrative along with interviews with experts. If the book were marketed that way, I would have given four stars.
Unfortunately, the book promises serious non-fiction in a very crowded category. To this end it quotes extensively from some other self-help authors all of whom deliver slickly-packaged soundbites from their own books. All had the feel of patent-cure salespeople rather than either serious researchers or effective therapists. Anyway, if you want to know what they have to say, buy their books. Lumped in with this crowd is the great Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. You should definitely read his books and not rely on the brief quotations here.
When the author gets to traveling, things pick up quite a bit. But Eric Weiner (The Geography of Bliss) had the idea first, and did a better job of it, both in terms of interest in the stories and thought-provoking speculations. A lot of the difference is Weiner brought more humor to the task and a more open mind.
The speculations about happiness in general are interesting, but Darrin M. McMahon Happiness: A History is a better book if you have a historical or philosophical turn of mind. The science is explained more deeply, but just as readably, in Daniel Nettle's Happiness: The Science behind Your Smile. If you want both of the above, and are willing to work a bit harder, you won't go wrong with Flow or any other book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
So don't avoid this book, but I recommend getting at least one of the others first.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2011
It's not that I disliked the book or thought it was bad. But it was lacking. It was lacking in original thought, lacking in anything new to add to the conversation about happiness, and lacking in content.
I liked the personal stories of people finding happiness, I enjoyed learning about different cultures ideas of happiness and what constitutes happiness, but I wanted more from the author than the brief, almost summary of each zone.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2011
After reading the first two chapters I quickly realized that the elements to acquire happiness, according to Mr. Buettner's research require much more than an individual can do alone. Many elements would require a drastic overhaul of our government. In addition, I felt that our nations work ethic as a whole is not on par with that of say, Denmark, so working for works sake(as opposed to working hard to achieve a higher salary) would not fly here in the U.S.
Because of these and other elements I found hard to follow/change due to the nature of our country/environment, I resorted to quickly skimming the chapters and just reading the summary at the end of each chapter.
Every time I read one of these books, I feel like all I need to do is figure out an interesting topic, get a bunch of people to talk to me about the subject, for free, and compile all my notes in a book. Voila, instant millionaire!