It was in 2011 when the then prime minister of the small Asian country of Bhutan, Jigme Thinley, proposed that the United Nations (U.N.) annually dedicate a day to celebrating the happiness of citizens around the globe. One year later, in 2012, the U.N. General Assembly declared March 20th as World Happiness Day and proclaimed that the yearly occurrence would recognize:
Happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world.”
The U.N. also commemorated this landmark day by releasing their findings from a yearlong study, aimed at analyzing and promoting the subjective well-being of citizens around the globe, in the first ever World Happiness Report. Since 2012, great strides have been made by global government and policy leaders to move away from solely measuring a country’s prosperity and growth by purely economic measures such as the GDP. Exemplifying this truth, the previously mentioned nation of Bhutan now uses Gross National Happiness as their primary development indicator.
Overview of The 2017 World Happiness Report:
The 2017 World Happiness Report marks the fifth time in the past six years that the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) has published their comparative findings from surveying citizens, in 155 different countries, on the topic of subjective well-being. For each participating country, roughly 3,000 individuals were asked to evaluate their life circumstances on a scale where zero signifies the worst possible life and ten represents the best. Based upon their extensive research, the SDSN has identified the following six factors as being the most important indicators of subjective-well being:
- GDP per capita
- Healthy years of life expectancy
- Social support (having someone to count on)
- Trust (perceived absence of corruption)
- Freedom to make life decisions
- Generosity (charitable donations)
Upon completing their research and collecting survey data for 2017, the SDSN symbolically released their analysis and rankings on World Happiness Day. While the World Happiness Report’s release has become a celebratory occurrence for many Scandinavian nations, it also unfortunately serves as a reminder of the massive amounts of suffering taking place in the world’s less developed countries.
5 Key Findings from the 2017 World Happiness Report:
While there is a bountiful amount of relevant data in the 184 pages of the 2017 World Happiness Report, the following five findings are undeniably some of the most important. Not only can we use these finding to improve our understanding of the world’s collective levels of happiness, but also to discover verifiable ways to increase our own levels of subjective well-being:
1.) Scandinavian Countries Continue Happiness Reign:
For anyone with knowledge of the World Happiness Report rankings, it won’t come with much surprise to learn that the five Scandinavian countries found in the northern most region of Europe continued their happiness dominance in this year’s report. In each of the five reports to be published, including this year’s, the countries of Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, and Sweden have all ranked within the top 20 of happiest countries in the world, and in four out of the five reports, each of them has ranked within the top 10. This year, Noway unseated the three time champion Denmark, which came in second, as the happiest country in the world. Iceland, Finland, and Sweden finished ranked third, fifth, and tenth respectively. Why, you may wonder, are Scandinavians so happy?
Unlike any other cluster of countries on the planet, Scandinavian nations are set up in a way that provides citizens with the necessary resources and opportunities to enjoy a high GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy rates, social support, trust in their governments, freedom to make their own decisions, and mutually beneficial generosity. While paying taxes are dreaded in places like the United States, countries such as Norway, Denmark, and Finland use astronomical tax rates to supply their citizens with immense benefits. For example, citizens from each of the five nations enjoy healthcare, education, and child support completely free of charge. Additionally, because of the tax rates and universal benefits, there isn’t heightened levels of inequality amongst citizens.
2.) Money Alone Can’t Buy Happiness:
Based upon their research, survey results, and other statistical data, the authors of the World Happiness Report were able to show how money alone can’t buy happiness. While GDP per capita and average income does affect the happiness of citizens in third world countries who don’t have access to basic life necessities like food and water, there isn’t a correlation to be found between these economic measures and subjective well-being amongst the world’s wealthiest nations. The report goes to great lengths to show how the decline in happiness levels of American citizens, who enjoy great monetary wealth, has nothing to do with an economic downturn.
One of the most interesting chapters in this year’s report examines the unfounded correlation between China’s immense economic growth and the happiness of citizens in the country. Out of the 155 countries ranked in the report, China came in at 79th even though they have one of the world’s biggest economies. In a detailed analysis, the World Happiness Report authors examine China’s GDP per capita from 1990-2015, a timespan in which it multiplied over five times, and the declining levels of subjective well-being amongst Chinese citizens during the same years. According to the authors, these counteractive statistics were caused by increases in inequality and fraying social networks.
3.) The Importance of Mental Health:
This year’s World Happiness Report paid close attention to the all important role that mental health plays in determining individuals levels of subjective well-being. The authors of the report tell us that mental health explains happiness variances more so than commonly thought of factors such as income in first world countries such as the United States and Norway. Moreover, the report goes as far to say that mental health is a greater predictor of happiness than physical health and that the most transformative and least costly step countries can take to increase the levels of subjective well-being in their citizens is to focus on eliminating the mental health disorders of anxiety and depression.
Although the 2016 World Happiness Report referenced the creators’ desire to study the positive affects of mental cleansing practices such as mindfulness and meditation, the 2017 edition fails to build upon these initial aspirations. The report does, however, supply us with a variety of strategies to improve mental health, including to foster and build our social circles. Additionally, this year’s report tell us that the best predictors of children’s emotional health is the mental stability of the child’s mother and the social ambiance in their schools.
4.) Social Factors that affect Subjective Well-Being:
The authors of the 2017 World Happiness Report also aimed to show how a variety of social factors impact subjective well-being levels. Seeing that four out of the six primary happiness indicators are socially related, it can be assumed that the freedom to make life choices, social support, generosity, and a trustworthy environment are keys to happiness for citizens around the globe. The authors illuminate their social-driven claims by using a variety of statistical analysis that shows how societal factors influence economic growth, physical health, and collective states of well-being.
Throughout the report, the authors show how variations in the analyzed societal factors can both positively and negatively affect countries and individuals. On one hand, the previously mentioned Scandinavian countries exemplify the benefits that come from this truth and show how the collective whole of a country can benefit when society is built upon equality, trust, and reciprocity. On the other hand, a whole chapter of the report aims to show how the dip in Americans’ subjective well-being levels has been caused by negative societal issues such as rising inequality, corruption, isolation, and distrust.
5.) How Professional Work Influences Happiness:
In the 2017 World Happiness Report, great efforts were made to examine the relationship between work and well-being. From the research and data collection, the authors were able to statistically verify many work-related assumptions that are usually accepted as facts by the general public. For example, the data shows how being employed results in higher levels of subjective well-being and how those who work in psychically laborious blue-collar jobs report lower levels of happiness then those working in higher paying white-collar careers.
While verifying general assumptions like these doesn’t necessarily provide us with transformative information, the report’s chapter dedicated to work does give us with a valuable list of job-satisfaction predictors that can be utilized by large corporations, small business, and individuals alike. In particular, the report tells us that employers should strive to ensure their employees enjoy a healthy work-life balance, have a sense of professional autonomy, partake in a variety of different work-related tasks, and are given the opportunity to continuously learn and improve their professional skill sets.
For both world leaders and everyday individuals, it is important to acknowledge the key findings from the 2017 World Happiness Report. It is vital that governmental leaders continue shifting their focus away from using only economic indicators to measure prosperity and growth. Individuals have the opportunity to follow the report’s recommendations by building a trustworthy network of social contacts, learning personal strategies to monitor and improve mental health, finding engaging work, and focusing on reducing inequality in their communities. It is certain that if we make happiness our objective, the greater global community can collectively enjoy heightened levels of well-being. What we must do is heed the advice of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, who tells us:
Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”