The Happiest and Longest-Living People Have These Things in Common

By: Alex Trent | Published: Feb 12, 2024

A recently published piece by longevity researcher Dan Buettner outlines the culmination of 20 years of research into what the longest-living and happiest people all have in common.

The piece describes the various statements they could answer yes to and how we can apply them to our own lives. While following his advice doesn’t guarantee a long and happy life, people who meet these metrics have a leg up on being happier than most people.

Cowbell Metrics

In his piece, Buettner lists 15 things he discovered from Dan Witters, the Research Director of the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index since 2008. According to Witters, true happiness doesn’t come from just one thing, but a series of connected things.

A closeup shot of a cow’s face.

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Witters calls these things “cowbell” metrics and asserts they are indicators of true happiness when taken together.

Statements that Signify Happiness

These 15 statements involve basic things that many people know they should be doing but often aren’t able to implement in their daily lives. They include things like not smoking, eating healthy, managing your finances, going to the dentist, and exercising at least three days a week.

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What’s surprising about these figures is how many physical things are part of controlling our internal happiness state. True happiness, it seems, requires a variety of different considerations, which many people are missing.

Managing Finances

Number one on the list of statements is: “You manage your finances well and live within your means. You have enough money to do everything you want to do.” (via CNBC)

A person figuring out their finances on a piece of paper.

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Managing finances is a common cause of stress among people. This includes things like not being able to pay your bills or neglecting to pay them on time. High levels of debt can crush a person’s sense of self-worth.

Reaching Goals

“You set and reach goals on an ongoing basis.” Do you agree with this statement? If you do, then you might be happier than most people. 

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Often people get stuck in a rut as they deal with life’s many challenges. It’s essential to not lose sight of your goals and make regular steps to achieve them to protect your happiness in life.

Take Vacations

Another statement long-living happy people tend to agree with is: “You can always make time for trips or vacations with family and friends.” People in the United States are typically pretty bad on this one. 

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According to Pew Research in 2023, 46% of US workers don’t use all their paid time off. The United States consistently ranks low for logging vacation time compared to the rest of the world.


Put in Your Best Effort

Do you sometimes feel you aren’t putting your best efforts into work, life, or leisure? This might be less of an issue of motivation and more of an issue of not properly applying your strengths. 

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According to Buettner’s piece, happy people will agree with the statement: “You use your strengths to do what you do best every day.” Try to develop more skills to discover what you are good at.


Community Is Essential

Several more of Buettner and Witters 15 “cowbell” metrics involve having someone in your life and a community who encourages you. Feeling safe in your environment is a huge driver for happiness and success.

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Later in the piece, Buettner emphasized the importance of trust that someone has in their “politicians, police, and neighbors.” Someone should also have some level of civic engagement to maximize well-being.


Keep Learning

Another critical tip from these cowbell metrics is “to learn something new or interesting every day.” (via CNBC) People can be slaves to a comfortable routine, but this routine can often be a trap that keeps us from exploring new possibilities. 

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It seems that the happiest people who live the longest have kept themselves engaged by learning new skills and constantly expanding their minds every day.


Diet Recommendations

One statement deals with the amount of fruit and vegetables that someone eats. According to the piece, people who eat five servings of fruits and vegetables at least four days a week are on their way to being the happiest individuals. 

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If you want to improve your happiness, this is one that many people can work on. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average Americans only eat 0.9 cups of fruit and 1.4 cups of vegetables per day.


Physical Health Is Important Too

Statement 14 says: “You exercise at least 30 minutes a day at least three days a week.” Research shows that someone with an active lifestyle will have better health outcomes in the long run.

A woman running up a flight of stairs.

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Researcher Ulf Ekelund says, “It is quite clear from numerous large-scale, well-conducted epidemiological studies that 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity most days lowers the risk of premature death and many diseases, such as stroke, heart attack, Type 2 diabetes and many types of cancer.”


Stay Productive

The last cowbell metric statement might be one of the most important ones since it can fuel all of your actions. Statement 15 says: “You are active and productive every day.” 

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With the tips from Buettner’s research, everyone can find some areas they are lacking in they can work on. With so much to do in the day to be happy, it is no wonder that the happiest people are the most productive ones.