Today, we celebrate the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness!
How important is it to be happy? It’s simple really: a multitude of research from around the world shows that happiness leads to longer, healthier lives. A review of more than 160 international studies found that happiness has a direct impact on the physical health of human beings: happy people are half as likely to catch a cold and 50% less likely to experience a heart attack or stroke. What’s more, last year, we shared the findings of a Harvard University study, which found that a person’s overall happiness and physical well-being is heavily dependent on whether they belong to a strong community and have quality social connections. Over a period of 75 years, the extensive study found that, simply, “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier, period.”
Social connectedness and happiness go hand in hand. Harvard’s happiness expert, Daniel Gilbert, clearly explains the vital role that close relationships play when it comes to feeling content: “We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.”
So, how socially connected and, therefore, happy is the world we live in? Over the past five years, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network has undertaken a landmark survey to produce the World Happiness Report about all levels of happiness around the world. Its release date coincides annually with the UN-marked and celebrated International Day of Happiness.
In previous World Happiness reports, the editors concurred that “happiness provides a better indicator of human welfare than income, poverty, education, health and good government, measured separately.” In 2016, the editors argued something different but analogous: “The inequality of well-being provides a broader measure of inequality.” Simply put, people are happiest living in societies where happiness and well-being are considered more or less equal among the citizens.
Which countries were identified as being the happiest in last year’s report? Denmark was ranked as the happiest nation, followed by Switzerland in the number two spot, and Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden rounding off the top ten. The World Happiness Index takes into account six variables: GDP levels, life expectancy, generosity, freedom, corruption, and, perhaps most interestingly, social support.
Some of the wealthiest nations, including the US (13) and Germany (16), failed to make the top ten, which is telling. One of the report’s editors, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, believes that societies that chase money are focusing on the wrong things and neglecting meaningful social connections. Unfortunately, in recent decades, societies have become richer in terms of income but not connectedness. As Director of Action for Happiness, Mark Williamson wrote in the Guardian, “The positive benefits of higher incomes have been undermined by rising inequality and falling levels of trust and social cohesion.”
It has never been more important for countries around the world to address the factors affecting the happiness of their citizens and to work together to build social connectedness. It is clear that the wealthiest countries are not necessarily the happiest, and the fact that the authors of the World Happiness Report consider social support as a key variable demonstrates how crucial it is to build social connectedness around the world.
Fresh off the presses, the 2017 World Happiness Report was released today! How does your country rank, and how socially connected are its citizens? Let us know your thoughts by connecting with us on Twitter, @sconnectedness.