Buettner, in his book Thrive, studied lessons learned from communities around the world that have achieved high levels of happiness. Place matters, he says. “When you look at all of the ingredients, the most important ingredient to that recipe of happiness is where you live.” California’s San Luis Obispo, the city ranked highest in the United States on the Gallup-Healthways index, benefits from local leadership that focuses on policies that favor quality of life — such as creating a greenbelt around the city, favoring cyclists over motorists, limiting marketing, and prohibiting drive-through windows at fast food restaurants, as well as a town square that facilitates meeting other people, he says.
If moving is not feasible, people can still reshape their home base, Buettner says. He recommends looking for a job that requires a short commute and picking a neighborhood with sidewalks and nearby parks, which encourage exercise and meeting neighbors.
Need more proof that socialization matters? Another analysis from the Gallup-Healthways index found that Americans are happiest on days when they spend six to seven hours socializing. Some of that socialization can occur at work, if people have forged good relationships with co-workers, Peterson says.
Performing meaningful work in life, whether paid or not, also appears to boost emotional well-being. “Is there something that gets you out of bed in the morning?” Peterson asks. He points out that the Japanese have a word that encapsulates this concept, ikigai, which translates roughly as having a sense of “life worth living.”