What is happiness? I think it was Lucy from Peanuts who said it was a warm puppy.
So what are the secrets from the happiest people on Earth?
Some make sense: Be wealthy, married, and have a job. From there, though, it gets more complicated.
While happiness isn’t easy to quantify, Columbia University’s Earth Institute tries to in its World Happiness Report, which has the ambitious goal of surveying the state of happiness in the world today.
The report, commissioned by the United Nations Conference on Happiness (yes, that exists), shows that richer people are happier than poorer people on average, but obviously wealth is only one factor in overall happiness. Here’s some other findings:
• Happier countries tend to be richer countries. But more important for happiness than income are social factors like the strength of social support, the absence of corruption and the degree of personal freedom.
• Over time as living standards have risen, happiness has increased in some countries, but not in others. In the U.S., for example, happiness levels have remained stagnant while living standards have risen over the past 50 years or so.
• Unemployment causes as much unhappiness as bereavement or separation. It’s not the loss of income, but the loss of things like self-esteem and workplace social life that lead to a drop in happiness. High unemployment rates can trigger unhappiness even in the employed, who suddenly become fearful of losing their jobs.
• Behaving well makes people happier.
• Mental health is the biggest single factor affecting happiness in any country. Yet only a quarter of mentally ill people get treatment for their condition in advanced countries and fewer in poorer countries.
• Married people across the world were found to be happier than single people. A stable family life and enduring marriages are important for the happiness of parents and children.
• In advanced countries, women are happier than men, while the position in poorer countries is mixed.
• Happiness is lowest in middle age.
It’s not hard to conclude from these findings that gross domestic product is not the ultimate indicator of happiness.
By the way…don’t shoot the messenger!
While I write a lot about money and properties in these blogs, I clearly realize that money is important in those areas of your life where it is important, and not at all relevant in those areas where it is not important.
I know there is a lot more to wealth than money.
Having said that the findings of this survey can be summarized as follows:
The happiest countries in the world are all in Northern Europe (Denmark, Norway, Finland, Netherlands).
The least happy countries are all poor countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (Togo, Benin, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone.)
The survey also found that it’s not just wealth that makes people happy:
Political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are together more important than income in explaining well-being differences between the top and bottom countries.
At the individual level, good mental and physical health, someone to count on, job security and stable families are crucial.
You can check out the whole happiness report here.
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