Happiness is an active process, not something you get by sitting back and waiting. It’s something to be grabbed by the horns or more vulnerable areas and then conquered. At least, this is the gist of the message from Tony Robbins and gurus of his ilk.
Many also say happiness is not something we can buy, or steal, or work too hard to acquire. If you work too hard at it, you end up obsessing over your own state of mind—Am I happy? ... Really though? And like love, if you have to ask, the answer is no.
So what’s the right way to think about effort and happiness? Should I be trying for “happiness” per se—or something more magnanimous, like purpose or meaning?
Or money? Is happiness actually all about money? That would be a real twist.
Few people bring the unique perspective to this mess of questions like Dan Buettner. Over the past 15 years, he has carved out a niche at National Geographic, where he travels the world in search of the healthiest people and “distills their lessons,” as he puts it, translating existential philosophy into practical information for limited-attention-span U.S. readers.
The result has been a mix of journalism, academic epidemiology, advocacy, and entrepreneurship delivered in easy-to-implement bullet points. The mix allows Buettner a certain vantage to synthesize information and see it through to the real world. After publication of his 2008 book Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, he launched a company of the same name that works with local communities to integrate health-based changes. I first talked to Buettner at the Aspen Ideas Festival a couple years ago, where he was one of the few people in jeans and a T-shirt. While most people there were sitting listening to interviews and panel discussions, he texted to see if I wanted to cut out and go mountain biking.