In anticipation of World Happiness Day on March 20th, The United Nations (UN) released the 2016 World Happiness Report earlier this week. The report, now in its 4th installment, is published by the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), which is made up of global experts in fields such as psychology, public policy, health, and economics. To gather data, the SDSN surveys around 3,000 individuals in each of the 156 countries that are featured in the report. Participants are asked questions that revolve around the following six key happiness indicators:
- GDP per capita
- Healthy Years of life expectancy
- Social support
- Perceived levels of personal freedom
While the findings of the report can be scrutinized for being subjective in nature, there is unquestionably valuable insight that we can explore to discover the psychology of the world’s happiest people. We can increase our understanding of key life-satisfaction components by examining the following three takeaways from this year’s World Happiness Report. Then, with this knowledge in hand, we can determine ways to implement the strategies, used by the world’s happiest people, into our own lives.
3 Key Findings from the 2016 World Happiness Report:
While there are a wide variety of psychological takeaways that we could examine from the 2016 World Happiness, there are three in particular of great significance:
1.) Why Are Scandinavian People So Happy?:
Scandinavia, the northernmost region in Europe, is made up of five individual countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland) which all ranked within the top ten of the 2016 World Happiness Report. In the previous three World Happiness Reports, these five countries had similarly high scores and have ranked within the top 20 each year. In a part of the world where temperatures and daylight hours fluctuate to unimaginable extremes, one would have to question how the citizens of these countries could be the happiest on Earth. So why are Scandinavians so happy?
To improve our understanding of Scandinavian psychology, we can begin by examining the country that was crowned as the happiest on earth: Denmark. The Danish people are considered to be the happiest on the earth due to a wide variety of social and economic characteristics of the country, and one important psychological quality that Danes are known for exhibiting is a sense of contentment. In an article published on the popular United Kingdom news site called the Telegraph, Helen Russell was interviewed about the Danish lifestyle. Russell, who published a book in 2015 titled The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country, is quoted as saying:
The Danish have a deep contentment with themselves and with their lives, which creates a solidarity and makes people more trusting of one another and less stressed.”
Russell additionally points to the fact that Danish people make the most of the little things and approach happiness as a process that should be worked at every single day rather than a final reachable destination.
While living with contentment and consistently working towards happiness are obviously both very important pieces of the happiness puzzle, it isn’t the only reason that Scandinavians are regularly considered as the happiest people in the world. In each of these countries, high tax rates create massive social benefits for their citizens, and this results in increased job satisfaction and trust within communities. Because the disparity in equality is fairly low, individuals are more willing to put complete trust in their government and neighbors.
On top of these benefits, the high tax rates allow for employee perks that can only be dreamed of in countries such as the United States. In Sweden, for instance, citizens are allocated 5 weeks of paid vacation time each year and new Norwegian parents receive 12 months of combined paid parental leave. Benefits such as these are directly correlated with the all-important happiness component of job satisfaction.
2.) Sustainable & Holistic Lifestyles Lead to Happiness:
The 2016 World Happiness Report puts great emphasis on highlighting the relationship between sustainable development and happiness, telling us:
Sustainable development and related holistic concepts (such as Pope Francis’s integral human development) are a better overarching guide to human well-being than the single minded pursuit of income, or economic freedom, or other one-dimensional objectives.“
Proponents of Pope Francis’s Integral Human Development (IHD) living model believe that a human cannot experience high levels of happiness without finding an appropriate balance across the various areas of life. This can be clearly exemplified by looking at those who are completely consumed by money and career status, but remain unable to find true fulfillment. The six areas of life that need to be balanced in order for individuals to thrive are: Spiritual, Social, Political, Financial, Natural, and Physical.
Integral Human Development also focuses on creating living cultures that are centered around compassion, where individuals live with a ‘for the greater good’ mentality. Unsurprisingly, it is this exact type of cultural structure that is prevalent in the five Scandinavian countries.
3.) Mindfulness Meditation Will Continue to Grow Globally:
In the 2016 World Happiness Report there is a direct reference to the study’s lack of attention paid to mindfulness and meditation. The authors write:
We also need to explore in much more detail how the cultivation of mindfulness and personal virtues may contribute to long-term health.”
If the UN does in fact dig deeper into the relationship between mindfulness and happiness, they will soon discover the life-affirming effects created by meditation. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network will learn that increased mindfulness levels lead to improvements in every area of living, including your personal well-being, mental health, physical health, and most notably your levels of happiness.
Using the Findings to Create More Happiness:
Now that we have looked at three key takeaways from the 2016 World Happiness Report, let’s see how we can use these findings to increase our own levels of fulfillment. Based on the information that has been presented, here are five simple steps that you can take to improve the quality of your life:
- Look to Create Balance Across Every Area of Life: To find the lasting levels of fulfillment that you seek, you will need to cultivate a balanced approach toward living. This means not neglecting any particular person or thing, and regularly assessing how you’re spending your time, energy, and resources. When you are analyzing your work-life balance, it will be important to make changes to the imbalances you find, regardless of the potentially negative consequences it may bring.
- Find Contentment in Your Life: In order to reach the levels of happiness that you desire and deserve, you’ll have to develop the all-important personal quality of contentment. You can begin cultivating contentment within by making time each day to reflect on the things in your life that bring you the most joy. Especially in the United States, a major psychological mindset shift is needed from the mentality of greed, competition, and separation to one of thankfulness, gratitude, and connection.
- Realize that Happiness is a Process Not a Destination: When individuals believe that happiness can only be obtained by meeting some goal in the future, they relinquish their right and abilities to enjoy what life has to offer in the present moment. Just like the citizens of Denmark, you should constantly remind yourself that happiness is a process rather than an end goal. It’s important to find ways to be happy each day and you can do so by consciously thinking about the positive small things that happen in your everyday experiences.
- Strive to Find Meaning in Your Work: While it isn’t possible for most of us to find employment that comes with the job perks enjoyed by Scandinavian people, we should strive to work in careers that we find meaningful. It is estimated that in a 50-year working career, an individual will spend 35% of their awoken time on the job. For this reason, it is imperative to find a profession that genuinely excites us. If we are going to invest a third of our lives in one single activity, it better be one that we really enjoy.
- Begin to Increase Your Mindfulness: The Western World is continually learning about the benefits that individuals obtain from increasing their mindfulness through the practice of meditation. Just to highlight a few, Mindfulness Meditation is said to: strengthen the immune system, lower levels of stress and anxiety, improve the ability to respond to negative situations, and increase levels of well-being and happiness.
As you can now see, there are a plethora of ways that we can use the information from the 2016 World Happiness Report to improve the quality of our own lives. By focusing on integrating some of the most notable takeaways from the report’s findings, it is certain that you will be on your way to greater levels of fulfillment and joy.