San Luis Obispo, located between San Francisco and Los Angeles in Calif., has been recognized as the place with the happiest people in the nation. It has also been identified as one of the happiest places to live in the world. In Dan Buettner book "Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zone Way" he has a chapter he called "San Luis Obispo A Real American Dream."
San Luis Obispo's rise to the top of the happiness scale has been a relatively new development since 1969. The town voted to close their main streets to traffic and devote the downtown area to create a town square. The town square is focused on increasing the quality of life by creating gathering spaces, art and music spaces, areas to walk and bike, and improving exercise and health in the community. The shift towards quality of life and away from totally optimizing business helped to galvanize the residents to become more involved in their surroundings and their local government's decisions. San Luis Obispo was the first municipality to ban smoking in the United States in restaurants, bars and certain public spaces to improve the health of their residents. It also prohibited drive-through restaurants in the town to improve the quality of the easily-accessible food for its residents. They created a greenbelt, an area where they restrict the amount of new real estate that can be built around the town. It is currently restricted to one percent a year to prevent suburban sprawl in their community. They encourage the use of bicycle riding or walking over driving by having good sidewalks and bike lanes. They also have traffic move at a slower rate to support riding and walking. With such wonderful quality of life and such happy people you would think people would be flocking to live there. However, only a limited amount of jobs are available and about one quarter of the residents of San Luis Obispo are self-employed. People who have control and freedom over their time tend to be happier people too. It is great to know that there are places in the United States where people’s happiness and their health are priorities.