I’m listening to Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way as a book on CD while sitting in often-horrific Boston traffic. What does the book say? Sitting in traffic commuting is the unhappiest time of the average person’s day (cites research by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Kahneman ). A person who commutes an hour to work each day would need to get paid 40 percent more than a person who walks to work in order to achieve the same level of happiness. Thus we’ve immiserated ourselves here in the U.S. first with suburban sprawl that makes it tough to socialize the 6-7 minimum hours per day that the Thrive book says is necessary and then by our inability to agree on a mechanism for speeding up traffic.
The phenomenon of Americans not being nearly as happy as our income would predict is well known. I wonder how much of that can be explained by just three factors: (1) we move around a lot due to the lack of a central city, such as Paris or Mexico City, in which people will stay after at most one move, (2) more of us live in suburbs than do people who live in other countries (I can’t find good stats on this but it has to be true if only due to the fact that we have so many more cars), (3) we’ve choked our transportation system almost to death so that suburbanites no longer have reasonable mobility.
A few other tidbits from the book:
- Welfare State handouts make people miserable by keeping them unemployed/dependent; the smart happy country of Singapore does it better by “topping up” wages for their least capable 5-10 percent of workers so that everyone who works has a tolerable standard of living
- Government policies that foster mixed-income housing make people miserable. People are happiest when they are surrounded by folks who earn about the same as they do.
- Government regulations that make it tough to start and run your own business make people miserable. People are happiest when they are in control of their life at work. (The author does not address the apparent contradiction with increased socializing leading to more happiness; many people who run their own businesses are literally sole proprietors and spend more time alone than workers in a cubicle farm.)
- Being religious makes people happy because they are satisfied with what God has provided them. Attending church regularly makes people happy.
I’m not sure that I can recommend the book. It is somewhat rambling and anecdotal and, at least as an audiobook, it is tough to know the reliability of the studies referenced. Furthermore, the insights offered are very similar to what positive psychologists have been saying for years: (1) have a lot of friends, (2) make sure those friends are happy (i.e., the folks with PhDs in psychology recommend immediately dumping any friend who becomes depressed!), (3) live in a compact house or apartment within walking distance of those friends (I wrote about this in my non-profit ideas article under “Latin American-style Towns for the U.S.), (4) don’t work more than 40 hours/week (part-time workers are happier than full-time workers), and (5) take a lot of vacation. On the other hand, the author managed to get an interview with Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of modern Singapore, on the subject of why Singaporeans surveyed at the top of the Asian happiness charts.