After centuries of searching for the elusive notion of happiness, the world has finally concluded that not only is it important, it’s also not quite what it seems.
Contrary to what Hollywood might want you to believe, there’s no mean score for happiness that the human race needs to strive toward
When was the last time you uttered the words ‘If I died now, I’d die happy’? What set of circumstances, people or things created a moment that you felt happy? And was it happiness or contentment? Was there excitement involved, or peace? In trying to pin down what happiness actually is, science has deduced that it’s subjective. Contrary to what Hollywood might want you to believe, there’s no mean score for happiness that the human race needs to strive toward.
IT’S A HUMAN CONDITION
The World Happiness Report was produced by the United Nations in conjunction with the Earth Institute and took the results of various studies conducted all over the world that asked questions such as, ‘all things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole currently (where 0 = extremely dissatisfied and 10 = extremely satisfied)’.
The report breaks down happiness levels by outlining internal (mental and physical health, education, age, family experience and gender) and external factors (community and governance, values and religion, work and income).
- Mental and psychical health are important factors in your levels of life satisfaction – there’s a knock-on effect of illness in that long-term or chronic diseases impact your ability to get or hold down a good job, as well as your social abilities, all of which are happiness factors in their own right. But, humans are adaptable, so it’s found a recently disabled person is less happy than someone who’s been disabled for a period of say three years and has learned to live with it
- Education is important in that it allows you greater freedom in choosing to live a better life, as well as better opportunities for securing a good and sustainable job. In some countries, upping the minimum school-leaving age has increased the nation’s overall happiness levels
- Age Your happiness levels fluctuate with your age, and are at their lowest between 40-50 when they rise again until you’re around 80, after which other factors may intrude on your quality of life – such as poor health
- Gender Women are happier than men even though they tend to experience more mental illness and psychological distress. This is only true, however, in countries where gender rights are more equal.
- Marriage and family In general, married couples are happier than those who aren’t married or are single. They’re also usually physically healthier and live longer. But, a troubled marriage is a sure-fire way to reduce your happiness and the study found that people who divorce experience greater life satisfaction around three years after their divorce than they had three years prior to the divorce. As for children, there’s not a huge difference between childless couples and those who have children – although the age of your children does affect your happiness levels. Children under the age of three and those going through adolescence are more likely to make their parents unhappier.
DID YOU KNOW: Dutch children are deemed the happiest in the world? The reason is that Dutch society is set up to fully support children and its common for mom’s to leave their jobs in order to concentrate on the very important facets of bringing up their children
- Community and governance Freedom to do what you want to do within your community is a major happiness factor, as is the level of trust you feel towards not only those close to you, but also your government, people within your community and even strangers. The amount of social capital you have (investment in social interactions) is directly correlated to your feeling of happiness. Green spaces within your immediate environment are also a factor – in fact, research indicates that green spaces in hospitals offer faster healing rates and greater feelings of well-being in patients, while schools and universities that have green spaces afford students better performance levels
- Religion and values Altruism is seen to create happiness in both the giver and the receiver, but the World Happiness Report states that