Sunday, May 27, 2012

Musings on Blue Zones and Not-so-melancholic Danes

An article in the Economist mentions a report finding that the world’s happiest countries are in northern Europe (Denmark, Norway, Finland, Netherlands) and that here in the US, a panel of experts in psychology and economics, including Princeton's Daniel Kahneman, were trying to define reliable measures of “subjective well-being" which could someday supplant GDP as a measure of whether or not a country is making progress.

The photo in the article, of a bare-headed guy riding no-hands through of flurry of either snowflakes or soap bubbles, suggests a link between happiness and the velocipede [*].

It turns out there are many blog posts and stories on the connection between Danish society, bicycling, and happiness. Here's an example from the BBC and a bunch more from Streetsblog.org, NPR, etc.

Author Dan Buettner wrote an article "Lessons from Denmark" wherein his to-do list starts with "Build an Environment of Trust". Buettner developed the concept of a "Blue Zone" to identify an area and/or demographic of enhanced longevity; his book "Thrive" can be found at the library. Economics prof John Helliwell, probably not the namesake of the sax player in Supertramp, also touches on the trust/happiness link. "Cycling builds trust which leads to people being kinder and gentler to each
other", he claims.

To conclude, the following from the website of the OECD Better Life Index".

"Cycling in Denmark is both a means of transportation and a  means to good health ... An analysis of the socio-economic consequences of investing in cycling showed cost-benefit ratios much higher than normally expected from transport projects.

"Concerning health benefits, studies have shown that people who bike to work have a 28% lower mortality rate than the population average.

"To improve traffic conditions and encourage cycling, the city is carrying out work in nine focus areas: creation of more cycle tracks and reinforced cycle lanes; creation of green cycle routes; improved cycling conditions in the city centre; combining cycling and public transport; bicycle parking; improved signal intersections; better cycle track maintenance; better cycle track cleaning; campaigns and information.

[*] but what if the bicyclist in the photo is actually just happy to be alone ?

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