When I am training for a marathon, I crank through podcasts like crazy, and the miles fly by. I have baseball podcasts, news podcasts, pop culture podcasts, media podcasts, grammar podcasts, running podcasts, celebrity gossip podcasts...the list goes on and on. I've assembled a team of favorites that match pretty nicely with my weekly mileage during marathon training. Outside of those time periods, though, it's really hard to keep up!
That's how I found myself marveling on a recent run over an Oct. 21 segment of NPR's "Talk to the Nation" that I'm sure is totally old news to everyone except me. (How old? The next segment was previewing the first game of the World Series.) Nevertheless, I will share some of the key points that really resonated. The host interviewed Dan Buettner, who wrote "Thrive: Finding Happiness The Blue Zones Way." You remember hearing about those Blue Zones, right, Reader? They're those pockets around the world where people live better and longer, and it seems that Dan Buettner has made it his business to identify them and then figure out why.
I'm quoting from the show's transcript, even though I think I would hate it if people attributed quotes to me based on how I responded to interview questions. I'm sorry, Dan Buettner.
- "The biggest variable in the happiness equation - did I marry the right person, do I have engaging work, do I have my health - the biggest variable, most variable variable is where you live."
- "As a rule, the more we socialize in a day, the happier we are . . . The happiest Americans are reporting between six and seven hours of social interaction. And by the way, that is face-to-face, not Facebook."
- "When I think of happiness, I think 90 percent of it is contentment. Then there's 10 percent of having these occasional peaks of joy. I assert you want to focus on that day-to-day, that high plateau of well-being than, you know, going out for the great party or, you know, the real peaks."
- "When you look at Americans' day-to-day activity . . . the top two things we hate the most on a day-to-day basis is 1) housework and 2) the daily commute in our cars. In fact, if you can cut an hour-long commute each way out of your life, it's the equivalent of making up an extra of $40,000 a year if you're at the $50-60,000 level. Huge."
Unsurprisingly to anyone who has read Miles and Laurel more than once, I am on board with all of this, and it's not just because Dan Buettner revealed that he chooses to live in Minnesota. I am a huge believer in the notions of place and home and community, and I try to be intentional when I can about creating situations and scenarios that match up to those values. For me, that means appreciating that I work and live in dynamic, walkable neighborhoods close to water and green space. I have an easygoing commute and I am grateful for that all the time. I do not know how Buettner and his researchers reached this statistic about $40,000 per year, but I accept it and believe it without question. As an aside, at least now I know I'm not alone in not having an affinity for housework.
The notion of happiness being place-dependent can potentially seem overwhelming for people who feel locked into a place for any number of reasons, and I get that. I don't mean for this post to be an heavy-handed avenue for me to yammer on Pollyanna-style about how I appreciate my city. The podcast was also full of ideas for smaller changes that are well within our control and our daily choices - namely, the statistics about social interaction, which were so interesting to me.
By the nature of my work as a writer, I could happily tap away on the keyboard and have the whole day go by, but that concept shows how important it is to carve out social time for walks or lunches or grabbing coffee with friends whenever I can - and making an effort to connect with the people around me during the workday, too. (That's not just me-me-me talk, either - I think it's pretty well-accepted that the most productive office cultures usually include room for that collegial, congenial interaction.) It also reminds me that I'm fortunate to have opportunities to combine fitness activities (classes and especially running) with social connections. The conversation was a healthy reminder that face-to-face interaction trumps text, Facebook, gchat and email messages every time.
One more time: here's the link to the conversation. Okay, Reader: What's genius, what's common sense, and what's baloney? Did any tidbits hit home with you the way they did with me? What do you appreciate about your place and home?