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Dan Buettner Unlocks the Secrets of Happiness at Queens University

Mar 04, 2024 By Queens University Communications

The Learning Society of Queens University of Charlotte proudly welcomed Dan Buettner, renowned National Geographic Fellow, explorer, and bestselling author of “The Blue Zones” to The Sarah Belk Gambrell Center for the Arts and Civic Engagement on Feb. 27. Buettner delivered an insightful presentation entitled “Unlocking the Secrets of Happiness” to a sold-out crowd.

“Dan Buettner joins the likes of Isabel Wilkerson, Deepak Chopra, Jared Diamond, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Walter Isaacson, and many others in broadening the lens through which Queens students understand and contribute to the world,” said Nancy Morris, chair of the executive committee for the Learning Society. “Through the generous support of our members, the Learning Society has provided new perspectives, inspiration, and transformative leadership that extends the reach of a liberal arts education far beyond the classroom for more than 35 years.”

During his presentation, Buettner discussed his extensive research on the world’s “Blue Zone Hotspots,” five places across the globe where people live the longest, healthiest lives. His research identifies common lifestyle factors that contribute to the longevity and well-being of people in these areas.

“Life expectancy in humans has increased about 2 years per decade since 1840. Now, given advancement in genetic therapies, the pace of discovery is growing exponentially,” said Buettner. “Investing in universities, and the students that attend them, is our best bet for seeing a doubling of life expectancy in our lifetime.”

Buettner also participated in an intimate student-led discussion earlier in the day. Madelyne Zarzyski ’24, a student of Queens’ Presbyterian School of Nursing, participated in the event as a panel member. A Charlottesville, Virginia native, Zarzyski will return to her home state after graduation and has accepted a nursing position in the pediatric intensive care unit at a local hospital.

“I was honored to participate in this opportunity with Dan Buettner,” said Zarzyski. “Last May, I was able to study abroad in Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula as part of Queens’ John Belk International Program. We were able to see firsthand why Costa Rica is one of the Blue Zones. There is a strong sense of community and they eat a primarily plant-based diet while working outside regularly.”

Since 1988, the Learning Society has broadened our worldview through unfiltered dialogue with diverse, compelling – and sometimes provocative – speakers by connecting leading thinkers and doers to Queens University and the greater Charlotte community.

“We love hosting the community on our historic campus, but more importantly we love being a convener for the city of Charlotte,” said Dan Lugo, president of Queens University. “I’ve devoted my life’s work to preparing young adults for a promising future. So the sheer irony of wanting to explore how to live an exceptionally long life with college students is not lost on me.”

Buettner’s work has gained widespread recognition and has been featured in publications across the globe. His Blue Zones research has captured imaginations worldwide, offering a roadmap for individuals and communities seeking to enhance well-being.

“For now, the lessons we learn from Blue Zones is a sure bet for adding an extra 10 years,” said Buettner. “Young adults are poised to learn these lessons and get the most years out of the life the human machine offers—and get the most life out of those years.”

Buettner now works in partnership with municipal governments, large employers, and health insurance companies to implement Blue Zones Projects in communities, workplaces, and universities. Blue Zones Projects are well-being initiatives that apply lessons from the Blue Zones to entire communities by focusing on changes to the local environment, public policy, and social networks. The program has dramatically improved the health of more than 5 million Americans to date.

“This university – much like these long-living societies – is a strong community, bound by a shared vision of intellectual curiosity, global understanding, and ethical living,” said Lugo. “Queens’ motto is “Not to be served, but to serve,” and we not only take care of each other on this campus, but we are thoroughly invested in Charlotte and will continue to be instrumental in the rise of the Queen City.”

Photo credit: Travis Dove