“Human beings come equipped with the pursuit of happiness impulse1” … the urge to find lusher land, a better job, more security is essentially part of the US Declaration of Independence. Americans work long hours and suffer mood and anxiety disorders in spite of the relative wealth and social well-being compared to other countries; in the last 40 years only a third describe themselves as very happy.
A World Happiness Report published by Columbia University shows stark contradictions. The U.S. ranked 23rd out of a 50-nation survey – far behind these countries :
#1 Iceland (!)
#2 New Zealand and
#3 Denmark …
..and trailing Malaysia, Tanzania and Vietnam”.
Iceland has long hard winters and a crippled economy and yet strong social networks and a sense of community.
Australians also have a tight sense of community in spite of the widening gap vs. rich and poor. Canadians score high and Ireland reports high levels of cheer in spite of the poor economy. War torn Afghanistan has 3 times as many people reporting they are happy than those who are not. Even Finland, once the suicide capital of the world, has a high level of people saying they are happy.
Costa Rica is “up there” (no surprise, right?). Guatemala has endured decades of war, violence and poverty and yet its people are among the sunniest in the world. Likewise Brazil, in spite of high levels of violence, their people (notably the women) are among the happiest in the world. Panama comes in near the top as well even though a third of the population lives below the poverty line. Mexicans also boast high levels of happiness in spite of the drug wars. Ditto Colombia. From my own experience I’d say Latinos have a capacity to enjoy themselves in spite of adversity. People may work hard and even those who exist near the poverty level, party and laugh with friends and family come the weekend.
On the other side of the scale falls Singapore with the world’s least optimistic population, although they have one of the highest per capita GDPs. China has actually experienced a decrease in satisfaction in conjunction with their economic boom. Botswana is one of the saddest nations with low levels of life expectancy (yet one of the higher ranked sub-Saharan countries economically). That many of the sub-Saharan Africa countries score low is not surprising. Can we even discuss happiness in countries where basic human needs for food and shelter and security, are not met for a large part of the population?
Health, wealth (or at least freedom from debt or poverty) and happiness are intertwined. Women report being happier than men, but this does not apply in less developed countries or those with “poor gender equality”.
What else contributes to happiness?
Pets, exercise, yoga, meditation; acts of kindness (happy people are generous and volunteers are more satisfied with their lives); education; faith; and of course a sense of community and supportive friends or close family ties.
Ralph Waldo Emerson sums it up:
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. “
1.Time magazine July, 2013 article on happiness.
What do you think? Is happiness cultural, circumstantial or genetic?