World Happiness Report: It’s not all about money

I can’t wait to delve into the first ever World Happiness Report. Commissioned by the United Nations Conference on Happiness, this report is a compilation of data that reflects environmental, social, physical, and structural factors that might impact happiness throughout the world.

Ariel Schwartz, a writer for Co.Exist, brought this study to my attention in her recent article. Among the top-line summary points that she shared:

Mental health is the biggest contributing factor to happiness in all countries, but only a quarter of mentally ill people get sufficient treatment in the most developed nations.


In some countries, the self-employed report higher levels of job satisfaction than the employed. The study found a positive correlation between happiness and self-employment in both American and European data, but not in Latin America. The possible reason: self-employment may be a necessity in developing countries where formal employment is not as readily available. When it’s not a choice, it doesn’t lead to happiness.


The structure of the report and definition of the “problem” being explored, too, is fascinating as well. From the section “Rethinking the Keys to Happiness”:

We increasingly understand that we need a very different model of humanity, one in which we are a complicated interplay of emotions and rational thought, unconscious and conscious decision-making, “fast” and “slow” thinking. Many of our decisions are led by emotions and instincts, and only later rationalized by conscious thought. Our decisions are easily “primed” by associations, imagery, social context, and advertising. We are inconsistent or “irrational” in sequential choices, failing to meet basic standards of rational consistency. And we are largely unaware of our own mental apparatus, so we easily fall into traps and mistakes. Addicts do not anticipate their future pain; we spend now and suffer the consequences of bankruptcy later; we break our diets now because we aren’t thinking clearly about the consequences.

We also understand (again!) that we are social animals through and through. We learn through imitation, and gain our happiness through meeting social norms and having a sense of belonging to the community. We feel the pain of others, and react viscerally when others are sad or injured. We even have a set of “mirror neurons” that enable us to feel things from the point of view of others. All of this gives us a remarkable capacity to cooperate even with strangers, and even when there is little chance of reward or reciprocity, and to punish non-cooperators, even when imposing punishment on others is costly or puts us at risk ourselves. Of course there are limits to such cooperation and fellow feeling. We also cheat, bluff, deceive, break our word, and kill members of an out-group. We engage in identity politics, acting as cruel to outsiders as we are loving to our own group.

Cool angles and insights. And I’m sincerely glad that happiness is something we are thinking about and exploring globally, and the data can better inform issues of health, housing, food, water, governmental leadership, poverty, marriage, banking, and physical activity. Can’t wait to see if and how this is used, and if people actually take it seriously. They should.

World Happiness Report: It’s not all about money

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