What Determines Happiness?

Posted by 4 December, 2008


Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence. -Aristotle

I think what we all really want is to be happy, right? We go to college to get the right job we want to have the life style we want so we can be happy. We get married because we think that’ll make us happy. We work long hours to get promoted because we think that’ll make us happy. We have kids and treat them well because that makes us happy. We do all of these things to make ourselves happy. The U.S. is the richest country in the world. So, why isn’t the U.S. also the happiest country in the world? According to TheHappinessShow.com with reference to: A CROSS-CULTURAL SOURCEBOOK BASED ON THE 1999-2002 VALUES SURVEYS (Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 2004), the U.S. is only the 15th happiest country as shown below.

1. Puerto Rico
2. Mexico
3. Denmark
4. Colombia
5. Ireland
6. Iceland
7. N. Ireland
8. Switzerland
9. Netherlands
10. Canada
11. Austria
12. El Salvador
13. Venezuela
14. Luxembourg
15. U.S.
16. Australia
17. New Zealand
18. Sweden
19. Nigeria
20. Norway
21. Belgium
22. Finland
23. Singapore
24. W. Germany
25. France
26. Argentina
27. Vietnam
28. Chile
29. Indonesia
30. Philippines
31. Taiwan
32. Brazil
33. Spain
34. Israel
35. Italy
36. Portugal
37. E. Germany
38. Slovenia
39. Japan
40. Czech Rep
41. S. Africa
42. Croatia
43. Greece
44. Peru
45. China
46. Morocco
47. S. Korea
48. Iran
49. Poland
50. Turkey
51. Bosnia
52. Uganda
53. Algeria
54. Bangladesh
55. Egypt
56. Kyrgyzstan
57. Hungary
58. Slovakia
59. Jordan
60. Estonia
61. Serbia
62. Tanzania
63. Azerbaijan
64. Montenegro
65. India
66. Lithuania
67. Macedonia
68. Pakistan
69. Latvia
70. Albania
71. Bulgaria
72. Belarus
73. Georgia
74. Romania
75. Moldova
76. Russia
77. Armenia
78. Ukraine
79. Zimbabwe

*Note that not all countries in the world were included in the survey*

According to GNN, “Government policies that promote economic growth, while shortchanging workers on things like vacation time, family time and health insurance, will not produce happy citizens. Since World War II, the per capita income in the U.S. has tripled, but life satisfaction has stayed the same. The same thing has happened in Japan and Western Europe. One reason may be that a rising economy, and the aggressive advertising that accompanies it, makes people desire even more things; therefore, they remain discontented.”

Jason Zwieg in Your Money and Your Brain found that rich are indeed not happier than those of us fortunate enough to be above the poverty line. When a study was conducted from various groups on a scale of 1 (not at all happy) to 7 (extremely happy), the results were striking. Jason points out that on “average, members of the Maasai ethnic group who herd livestock on the arid high plains of Kenya and Tanzania, score 5.7 on this scale. The Inuit, who live in the frigid wilds of northern Greenland, average 5.8. The Amish, with their antiquated rural lifestyle, also score 5.8. When members of the Forbes 400, the famed “Rich List” of the wealthiest people in America took a similar test, their average response was 5.8.”

So, if money doesn’t determine happiness, then what?

Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness, suggests

1. 50% of happiness can be accounted for by their genetic set point

2. 10% of happiness is explained by the difference in life circumstances or situations (i.e. whether we are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, married or divorced.)

3. 40% of happiness is determined by our behavior

Now, think about what Sonja has put together. Of the amount of happiness we hope to achieve, we can increase or decrease our happiness by 40% if we decide to be happy. I’ve always had that thought, but Sonja really does a nice job of putting all together. The part I like about her research is that she backs everything up with references.

What are some of your thoughts?

Photo by SpiritHands.net

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December 5, 2008

I did not see Costa Rica on the list. People seem to be very happy there. Also, the list ends with Zimbabwe ranked 79th, but there are 194 countries recognized by the US State Department. Does that mean the US’ ranking might drop even further down the list?

Posted by vilkri
December 5, 2008

Just had a chance to read this and it couldn’t have come at a better time for me.

We are staying with friends who earn a lot of money and are seemingly unaffected by the bad economy. Since we’ve been here, I’ve made the mistake of comparing our life to theirs, and wondering if our chosen vagabond lifestyle might be a mistake. Thank you for reinforcing the fact that money doesn’t equal happiness, something I already knew but tend to forget at times.

Posted by Rene
December 5, 2008

It’s funny how your list undoes the German reunification of 1990, once again seperating it in a western and an eastern part.

Posted by Martin
December 6, 2008

@ Vilkri – Nice observation. I bet you are right!

@ Rene – I’ve never experienced the vagabond lifestyle, but I imagine that it would certainly be exciting based on the pictures on your website. I bet your friends can’t pick up and leave as they wish!

@ Martin – I didn’t notice that. Nice observation! I guess this data is a little older than I thought.

Posted by HIB
December 7, 2008

I think it’s hard to measure happiness. If they gave they phrased the questions in different ways they might get different results.

With that being said I agree that a lot of our happiness is up to us. We have to create a foundation that supports our needs then use this foundation as a spring board to helping other people, being creative and expanding our ability to love.

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