Our Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way book club has finally arrived! Apologies for the delay! I wanted to start last week but I was sick with a bad cold. I know many of you have already read the book and have learned a lot from it so I’m happy and excited to finally discuss it with you!
I read Thrive last year, after I had read Dan Buettner’s first book, The Blue Zones. The lessons from the Blue Zones have been of interest to me for many years but recently I’ve really been interested in happiness and thriving. As a mother aspiring to create a healthy and happy home for my son, I’ve been interested in exploring new ways I can live that will help me shape my environment to help enhance not only my well-being, but also my son’s. Like most parent’s, I want my child to be happy and thrive.
Reading Thrive and incorporating some of its lessons has helped me to be more mindful of things that are important to me. There are so many lessons to discuss in this book that we could spend months on it. However, what I plan to do with this book club is post two videos to discuss a few lessons in the book that resonated with me the most. I will also post some quotes and sections of the book that were interesting to me.
If it were possible, I’d love to invite you to my home to drink tea and enjoy something fresh out of the oven while we discussed this book, but we’ll have to settle for the next best thing—feel free to go ahead and make that cup of tea while you share your thoughts. As I would like this to be an interactive book club discussion, please write your thoughts on the lessons and the book in the comments section below. Whether or not you read the book, please feel free to participate. I would love to hear from you!
I’ve titled this week’s post “Home is Where the Art Is” because I’d like to discuss some of the lessons about home and art that resonated with me. I’m using the word “art” not only in its more conventional sense (to include music, painting, poetry, nature, etc.), but also in a broader sense to include the “art of living” and learning to appreciate the finer things in life. One of the guiding lessons that I took away from this book is that small changes can make a significant difference, that is, we can learn from others to change our habits to improve our overall sense of well-being and happiness.
As I also aspire to raise a little citizen of the world. I’d like for him to learn the fine art of living. To me, that also includes understanding how to live a balanced life. I’d like him to have an open mind, to appreciate a variety of things and differing people around him. I’d like for him to undertand the art of temperance, but also know how to balance that with a passion to enjoy the wonders life has to offer, while living life to the fullest. I want him to learn the “art of living”. As Henry David Thoreau once put it, I think we should all strive to live simply, but also learn to “suck the marrow of life“! On that note, I’d like to start our book club discussion with a quote found at the beginning of the book.
Page 14: “The true keys to happiness lie in changing the way we think and behave, seeking out experiences such as savoring a beautiful moment and taking a picture of it, thanking a friend, writing a gratitude journal, or performing random acts of kindness. Such habits add up to create an upward spiral that boosts happiness.”
I was drawn to several lessons from the Danes. Buettner calls the people of Denmark “The World’s Happiness All Stars”. I appreciate how they place an emphasis on family rituals as well as their ability to slow down and appreciate the finer things in life, like art, music, food, nature, time with family and friends, and even a good night’s sleep.
Page 39: One of the fundamental aspects of Danish culture is a concept called hygge. Although it translates to the feeling of coziness, it actually connotes a lot more. It’s not only a feeling of warmth around family and friends, but it also describes a sense of tranquility, even if you’re alone. It’s kind of like the comforting, warm and fuzzy feeling you get inside when something warms your heart.
I love this concept and reading about it has made me think of more ways to create this feeling in my home and life more often.
The following quote from a Danish interviewee in the book was a great reminder for me on the importance of slowing down. She said:
Page 52: “I wake up in the morning and I see that flower, with the dew on its petals, and at the way it’s folding out, and it makes me happy,” she said. “It’s important to focus on the things in the here and now, I think. In a month, the flower will be shriveled and you will miss its beauty if you don’t make the effort to do it know. Your life, eventually, is the same way.”
She is so right. Life is the same way and it behooves us to slow down to take time to appreciate the beauty in the small and great things around us.
Pages 210, 217, 238, 241, 253: In these pages, the book sites different studies and examples of how learning to appreciate the arts (as in music, painting, history, etc.), can set you up for a boost in happiness and how getting kids involved in music lessons early can not only give them an advantage in academic performance, but also set them up for a lifetime of enjoyment. Buettner mentions that the happiest people listen to music for at least two hours a day and it doesn’t even seem to matter what kind of music you prefer.
I think this is a great lesson. A variety of music is regularly present in my environment but reading about the importance of art appreciation has also been a gentle reminder for me to also make time to visit art museums more regularly. As a side note, last year, in hopes of bringing out the love of art in our son, my husband and I bought several baby board art books. I think they are so fantastic. Some titles include Dancing With Degas, In the Garden with Van Gogh, A Magical Day with Matisse and A Picnic with Monet. They are beautifully illustrated board books with simple verses and paintings. At 19 months, my son’s favorite books are still Good Night Moon and The Cat in the Hat, but these art books have been a lovely way to introduce him to the wonderful world of fine art. We bought the books at an Art museum in California but they’re also available online through Amazon.
Page 211, 232: Buettner suggests one of the best ways to promote Thriving is to set up “nudges” favoring long-term happiness in six life domains—all interconnected—that he calls Thrive Centers. These Thrive Centers include: Community, Workplace, Social Life, Financial Life, Home and Self. The Thrive Center that resonated with me the most is “Home”. Reading this section made me think of what else I could do to set up my home that would enhance my family’s well-being. Buettner says, “the trick is “knowing the often counterintuitive habits that research shows lead to happiness and then organizing your home to propel you gently toward those behaviors.” Some examples he mentions are:
Fewer TV Screens – Have only one TV in your house.
Cancel Cable – Having too many choices is not always best.
Own a Pet – Studies suggest pet owners are healthier and happier than people without pets.
Create a Meditation Space – Regular meditation activates areas in the brain that register pleasure.
Designate a “Flow” Room – “Flow” is a state of engagement in which you’re using your talents and able to let time melt away.
Create a Pride Shrine – Set up an area of your home to routinely remind you of the people, accomplishments and events of which you’re proud.
Grow a Garden – Gardening is excellent exercise and it lowers stress.
Let the Sunshine In – Sunlight can manufacture endorphins that give you a feeling similar to a runner’s high.
Paint Your Mood – Paint areas in your home to reflect the moods you want to create.
Optimize Your Bedroom for Sleep – Free your bedroom from distractions that can keep you from getting quality sleep.
Page 254: One other lesson that resonated with me is the importance of volunteering. No matter where we live, volunteering as little as two hours a week seems to make us happier. I’ve volunteered a lot in my adult life but I haven’t done much volunteering in the past couple years. Now I’m looking for opportunities in our community where my son and I can get involved in volunteering locally.
As I turn the discussion to you for your comments, I’d like to end with a quote from Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, who coined the experience, “flow”:
Page 15: “If one fails to develop goals that give meaning to one’s existence, if one does not use the mind to it’s fullest, then good feelings fulfill just a fraction of the potential we possess. True happiness involves the pursuit of worthy goals. Without dreams, without risks, only a trivial semblance of living can be achieved.”
What do you think about these lessons? How do you ensure your home is set up as a place that enhances your well-being and happiness? What does “the art of living” mean to you? Are you involved in any volunteering projects? I’d love to know. Please share your thoughts, comments and/or questions in the comment section below.
Please join me next time for Hardwiring Happiness: Thrive Book Club Part 2.