It’s something that many of us already know: San Luis Obispo is one of the happiest places on earth.
The World Database of Happiness, directed by Ruut Veenhoven of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, ranks countries on their happiness using a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least happy and 10 being the most.
Data compiled by the study named Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Iceland and Finland as the cheeriest countries.
But when it comes to assessing happiness in the United States, the Healthways-Gallup survey found that San Luis Obispo was tops in overall well-being. Author Dan Buettner, in his book “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zone Way,” cites several factors that contribute to SLO’s pleasant mood.
First, it’s a place that gets things done. Progressive leadership in the late 1960s and early ’70s set the stage for a centralized Mission Plaza. In 1990, San Luis Obispo became the first city in the world to ban smoking in bars and restaurants. The city has also purchased 3,000 acres of open space for hiking and natural beauty. Such changes not only promote a better lifestyle, but also foster a sense of empowerment for those who work and play here.
Physical health is a top priority. Miles of hiking trails encourage physical fitness. An annual triathlon invites athletes of all ages and fitness levels to participate. Meanwhile, a ban on drive-through restaurants decreases the accessibility — and therefore consumption — of fast food.
A sign ordinance requiring that business signs be small and unobtrusive downplays consumerism within the city. Research shows that shopping may give a momentary boost to a person’s psyche. But constant temptations to buy, buy, buy create high levels of stress and, ultimately, a financial burden.
San Luis Obispo is awash in natural beauty. Views of rugged coastal hills, foggy beaches, wildflowers, migrating butterflies, and tidal flats are readily available at every turn. Scientific data tells us that wide-open vistas contribute to mental calm and decreased blood pressure. Protecting these resources sends a message to every resident: “We want this to be a lovely place for you to live.”
Give SLO another A-plus for its art. Free concerts ring out from various venues throughout the town. Art After Dark invites strollers on the first Friday of every month. Free public art graces buildings, street corners and turning circles. Studies find that the happiest folks are surrounded by art of all kinds, including opera, film, dance, reggae or sculpture.
Finally, happy people love to socialize. San Luis Obispo makes it easy. Whether they’re attending a political rally in Mission Plaza or a pick-up party at their favorite winery, Obispans make it a point to cozy up with friends and loved ones.
Of course, not everyone in our area is ecstatic. And SLO has grappled with its share of concerns. Still, living here makes me feel rosy. Now I know the reasons why.
Tips for boosting your happiness
Want to bring even more happiness into your life? Consider these simple steps:
Start moving. Exercise is directly correlated to your positive emotions. Take a hike at Santa Margarita Lake. Or work out at the YMCA. You’ll increase mood-enhancing endorphins while keeping your waistline slim and trim.
Practice your faith. Studies find religious people are happier than their nonreligious neighbors. But religion offers more than a belief in God. It provides succor in times of adversity, rules for daily living, and support from fellow parishioners. Dust off that Bible or prayer shawl and head back into church.
Join a club. Find a group of like-minded people to share your interests, philosophy or skills. Then make a commitment to get together on a regular basis. One study found that joining a group that meets once a month creates the same level of happiness as doubling your income.
Don’t overspend. Falling behind in your finances wreaks havoc with your psyche and your pocketbook. And just one poorly timed spending spree can put you in the financial hurt locker for years. If overspending’s a problem for you, cut up your credit cards and rely on cash. Then pay off your debt as soon as you can and start living within your means.
Make your home welcoming. Whether you live in a mansion or a tiny rental, you can create a joyful and pleasant environment. Cut flowers or greenery for your dining table. Light candles to soften the light. Make nooks that invite relaxation and meditation. The smallest and least expensive changes can fill your heart with contentment.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com