Blue Zones™: Discovering Sources of Happiness and Longevity by Private Jet

Q&A with Dan Buettner


Dan Buettner is an internationally recognized researcher, explorer, and New York Times best-selling author. He founded Blue Zones®, a company that puts the world’s best practices in longevity and well-being to work in people’s lives. Dan’s November 2005 National Geographic article on longevity, “The Secrets of Living Longer,” was the cover story of one of the magazine’s top-selling issues in history and made him a finalist for a National Magazine Award. His books The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way, and The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People have appeared on many best-seller lists and were featured on Oprah.

In 2009 Dan and his partner, AARP, applied principles of the blue zones in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and successfully raised life expectancy and lowered health care costs by some 40 percent. Dan also works in partnership with Healthways, municipal governments, and various insurance companies to implement the program in nine states and 39 communities so far, improving the health of more than five million Americans to date. Dan holds three world records in distance cycling and has won an Emmy® Award for television production. Dan will accompany the expedition from Seattle to Greece.

Q: Dan, you’ve spent years traveling the world, getting to know the world’s longest lived and happiest people. How were you drawn to devote yourself to these twin quests?

A: It all started in the spring of 2000 when I was leading a series of educational projects called “quests,” in which a team of scientists investigated some of Earth’s great puzzles. I had heard about Okinawa’s unusual longevity a few years earlier, and we spent 10 days studying, exploring, and summing up what we found there. Five years later, I returned to Okinawa with a new team. I’d just written a cover story for National Geographic about the secrets of long life, which profiled three areas of the world we dubbed “blue zone” areas. I was determined to find more areas of longevity, so we spent the next five years traveling the world interviewing 263 centenarians and sifting through thousands of birth and death records until we found the other four areas.

Q: This expedition visits a number of the blue zone areas you’ve identified, the places where the longest lived people are found. What are some of the secrets of longevity that travelers will experience with you?

A: The biggest takeaway is that there is not a silver bullet when it comes to longevity but more of a “silver buckshot.” We found nine common characteristics in all of the blue zone areas that we believe are the true keys to longevity. We call these the Power 9®:

1. Move Naturally - The world’s longest lived people don’t pump iron or run marathons. Instead, their environments nudge them into moving without thinking about it.

2. Purpose - Why do you wake up in the morning? Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.

3. Downshift - Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. The world’s longest lived people have routines to shed that stress.

4. 80% Rule - Hara hachi bu—the Okinawans say this mantra before meals as a reminder to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full.

5. Plant Slant - The cornerstone of most centenarian diets? Beans. They typically eat meat—mostly pork—only five times per month.

6. Wine @ 5 - Moderate drinkers outlive nondrinkers, especially if they share those drinks with friends.

7. Belong - Attending faith-based services four times per month—no matter the denomination—adds as many as 14 years of life expectancy.

8. Loved Ones First - Centenarians put their families first. They keep aging parents and grandparents nearby, commit to a life partner, and invest in their children.

9. Right Tribe - The world’s longest lived people chose or were born into social circles that support healthy behaviors.

Q: Describe a few keys to a happy life that guests will witness and learn about during this special journey by private jet.

A: Happiness is more nuanced than social scientists previously believed. There are at least three different genres of happiness: 1) how you evaluate your life, 2) how you experience your life, and 3) purpose and life meaning. In this trip, you’ll learn how different environments and practices produce each of these three in different measures—and how to set up your own life, for a balanced, authentic happiness.

Q: What are some of the highlights of this expedition, from your standpoint?

A: Being able to immerse oneself in the cultures of the happiest and longest lived will give travelers a clear vision that health and happiness is not something these people pursue but instead is something that ensues from a well-curated physical and emotional environment. The locations are also breathtaking.

Q: Is there any brief advice you’d share with anyone, whether or not they can make this journey with you?

A: Studies have found that if your friends have unhealthy habits you are 150% more likely to pick up these unhealthy or detrimental habits. I truly believe this is a great opportunity to curate a circle of close friends to enhance your journey for health and happiness.