Life is composed of a series of moments. If you’re like me, many of those are happy. Of course, what makes me happy may not do it for you. Even so, there are basic happiness components that we humans have in common, like good health, the means to acquire things we need, and good relationships.
Sometimes, however, we get confused about what makes us happy and can even confuse simple pleasures like acquiring a new toy with an overall sense of well-being, of meaning and contentment. One way to see the bigger picture is to create a list of recent happy moments, a list that reveals your unique happiness patterns.
One of my patterns combines family/friends, natural environment, and physical activity. For example, on March 20th, this year’s official start of spring, my husband and I took a long, brisk walk outdoors, even though the ground was still frozen. We chatted along the way and pointed out signs that spring had arrived – a couple of robins, spots of green grass, Canadian geese flying home, and open water on the bay.
It was a good day to embrace the happiness that the renewal of life brings because, as I later learned, March 20th was also the UN’s International Day of Happiness and the day its Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) published the fifth World Happiness Report. This report and its implications for American happiness is what I want to tell you about.
In it the SDSN ranks 155 countries’ level of national happiness based on the life evaluations of a large sample of people in each country. The purpose of the report is to encourage governments, organizations, and civil society in general to “use happiness indicators to inform their policy-making decisions,” that is, to consider happiness as “the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy” (“Overview”).
It’s about time, indeed, that policy-makers took the goal of achieving personal, social, and national happiness seriously. After all, that’s what people want – to be happy, regardless of their nationality, political leanings, religious beliefs, or socioeconomic status. We want it for ourselves and our family and friends. And we should want it for everyone, if for no other reason that that happiness is contagious. It’s much easier to be happy when surrounded by happy people.
This year’s happiest people are in Norway, which narrowly edged out Denmark (last year’s winner), with Iceland, Switzerland, and Finland close behind. Other countries in the top ten are the Netherlands, our neighbor Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden. Following these are Israel, Costa Rica, and Austria. (For a quick look at the full list of countries, from 1 to 155, see Wikipedia).
Then comes the United States, placing 14th. The U.S. has yet to break into the top ten; in fact, its rank has steadily decreased since taking 11th place in 2012, the report’s first year. What’s going on? Why are people in the top 10 happier on average than those in the U.S.? What can we the people of the U.S. do to increase national happiness? What are our happiness strengths, and how can we use those to boost our weaknesses?
To begin to answer such questions, we should become familiar with the six socioeconomic factors that the SDSN uses to measure national happiness, and then see how the U.S. stacks up.
The factors are national wealth as measured by the gross domestic product (GDP); life expectancy, which includes healthcare; social support, especially in times of trouble; generosity as measured by donations; freedom to make life choices; and governmental and corporate corruption.
I plan to look more closely at several of these factors in future posts, beginning with U.S. national wealth and income inequality. As Rachel Maddow likes to say, “Watch this space.”
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