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How Happy Are You?

How Happy Are You?
by Sarah Treleaven, Mar 15th 2011 7:00AM

Have you ever wondered whether your blues can be blamed on winter weather or if you're truly unhappy with life? Now's your chance to find out! After writing his book, "Thrive: Exploring Happiness the Blue Zones Way," Dan Buettner created a test that'll help you figure out your happiness quotient. Here's some of what he's learned about living well -- with tips he learned from the world's happiest people.

Q: Where did you look for the keys to happiness?

A: Working with National Geographic, we aggregated millions of well-being surveys from over 120 countries. We found four areas in the world where people report the highest levels of well-being: Singapore in Asia, Aarhus in Denmark, Nuevo Leon in Mexico and San Luis Obispo in California.

Q: Was there one place you found particularly influential? Why?

A: San Luis Obispo. This was a town that made the conscious decision to focus on quality of life back in the 1970s. They went about implementing policies -- like building wider sidewalks, bike lanes, green belts and outlawing fast-food drive-thrus -- that would improve people's lives in the area. And it worked!

Q: Did your research change or confirm the way you perceived happiness? How?

A: Yes. I lost my faith in motivational courses and the like. Achieving happiness is best attainable through setting up your life and surroundings so you're nudged into positive behaviours and away from negative ones.

For example, if you adopt a dog, research shows you're more likely to be happy and get exercise (both the dog and the human get walked each day). If you move closer to your work, you can be up to 40 per cent happier because you're avoiding a commute. Doing little things like these can have a huge impact on your quality of life.

Q: Did you find a lot of commonalities among the happiest people on the planet or was there a lot of divergence?

A: The happiest people socialize for seven or so hours every day. They volunteer. They have meaningful work. They live in walkable communities. The two most important things is to live in a happy place and to marry the right person.