Please see selected recent happiness-related change.
- Studies have shown that while happiness generally increases with income, this trend plateaus for some at around $60,000 to $90,000. However, more recent findings suggested this plateau mainly affects the least happy 20% of people, revealing a more complex relationship between income and happiness.
- An analysis of 443 studies comprised of more than 460,000 participants found that the happiest time in people's lives is when they reach 70 years old. The research team found that life satisfaction decreased a bit between the ages of nine and 16. After that, though, life satisfaction increased steadily for the next five decades and peaked at 70. From 70 to 94, however, life satisfaction slowly declined again.
- Research suggested that having short conversations with others can make us happier, even if we feel anxious or don’t think we’ll enjoy it. Even a shallow interaction with a barista in a café, or a potentially awkward one on a commuter train, can boost our mood. Another study, published in Science Advances, explored how even online conversations with total strangers on a video call can make us measurably happier.
- The 2023 World Happiness Report found that despite the obvious misery that COVID inflicted, it also appears that people treated one another better during the crisis than before.
- Research into communities with exceptional longevity reveal five keys to a long, happy life: move around a lot, de-stress regularly, have robust social ties, eat well - meaning, eat mostly plants and not too much of anything - and try to live with passion, purpose, and regular access to flow.
- A study found that money can buy happiness - and that one's level of joy rises along with income. Previous research had suggested that happiness plateaus when a person’s income hits US$75,000 a year, but the newer study, based on a survey of 33,391 adults in the U.S., shows that “emotional well-being” keeps rising beyond that threshold and even accelerates as pay climbs above $100,000 a year. This correlation continues until annual salaries hit $500,000; it might go beyond, but the researchers say they lack sufficient data on higher earners.
- The idea that happiness is more than just how we feel at any one moment has been around since Aristotle. Today, psychology draws a distinction between emotional well-being in the present and overall life satisfaction. This distinction, however, is a mistake. Life satisfaction is just a small part of our overall emotional well-being. Happiness is always judged in the present, not from some abstract vantage point that views our life as a whole, argued Steven Campbell-Harris for iai TV.
- In their book The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness, Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, the director and associate director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development respectively, argued there is one factor that “stands out for its power and consistency” in helping people live thriving and fulfilling lives. That is the quality of their relationships.
- As author Gretchen Rubin put it, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy many things that contribute mightily,” such as exciting experiences. Spending money on others is also linked to happiness. Still, many of the most reliable ways to increase happiness levels are free, like meditating and practicing compassion, gratitude, and altruism.
- Further reading:
- Asking one simple question can entirely change how you feel - Psyche Ideas
- Can money buy happiness? Depends on how you spend it - Big Think
- How much money will actually make you happy? - Curio
- How to Be Happy, According to Science - CNET
- How to be happy: Aristotle's 11 guidelines for a good life - Big Think
- Many people live as if happiness if the primary goal of a valuable life, with some being taught that we deserve happiness and that we should get rid of anything that doesn't make us happy. However, this is a relatively new idea in the history of philosophy - and it's partly a construction of advertising and industry, as happiness, after all, is a lucrative business.
- A writer for the Atlantic argued that a "happiness strategy" has three parts to it. First, one needs to commit oneself to understanding happiness. That can mean many things, whether it’s learning about the science of happiness, studying philosophy, or immersing oneself in a faith practice. Second, one needs to practice good "happiness hygiene". That’s where the ideas on this happiness list above come in. Treat them as systematic habits, not occasional hacks, and think consciously about whether each action is consistent with one's understanding of happiness. Finally, share knowledge and progress with others.
- According to Gallup, unhappiness has been increasing globally for a decade, and its rise has been missed by almost every world leader. That's because while leaders pay close attention to measures like GDP or unemployment, almost none of them track their citizens' happiness or wellbeing.
- 3.3 billion people want a great job, but only 300 million have one.
- 2 billion people are struggling on their current income.
- Over 1 billion people are so dissatisfied with their community that they want to leave it forever.
- In 2020, three in 10 people worldwide experienced food insecurity.
- Over 300 million people don't have a single friend.
- Gallup, the analytics firm, first began tracking global unhappiness in 2006. Negative emotions—the aggregate of stress, sadness, anger, worry and physical pain reached a record high This may not be surprising. The world in 2022 was suffering from a large European conflict (in addition to other ongoing wars), inflation and the consequences of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, but the global rise in unhappiness started long before most of those issues made headlines. In fact, global unhappiness had already been increasing for a decade.
- Negative experiences had continued to rise in 2021 and positive experiences dropped. Overall, people worldwide felt more worried, stressed and sad than at any time in the past 16 years - see Gallup's 2022 Global Emotions Report.
- Further reading:
- Visual Capitalist mapped global happiness Levels in 2022, asking what really makes people happy? While countless academic researchers have tried to get to the bottom of this, the truth is, it’s a complicated question to answer. Happiness levels depend on a number of factors, including one’s financial security, perceptions of social support, feelings of personal freedom, and much more. This map pulled data from the World Happiness Report to uncover the average happiness scores of 146 countries. It shows average scores from 2019 to 2021, and highlighted which countries are the happiest - or unhappiest - and why.
- Finland was crowned the happiest country in the world in 2021. “This Finnish happiness we hear about is not about dancing or smiling or being outwardly happy,” Anu Partanen, author of The Nordic Theory of Everything, told the BBC. “If that’s your idea of happy, then no, they are not the happiest. These studies are about the quality of life … Are you living the best one? Can you control your life? Do you have choices? Can you spend time with your family? Do you feel safe? Can you be productive in society?” Two Finnish concepts serve as potential drivers of this quality of life: sisu and a sense of communal trust. Sisu has been described by psychologist and sisu coach Emilia Lahti as a “universal capacity” that contributes to an “action mindset” and allows people “to overcome a mentally or physically challenging situation”.
- Asking whether some people are destined to be unhappy, Big Think concluded that people who have more genetic plasticity - meaning they are more sensitive to the environment and hence have an increased capacity for change - may be better able than others to enhance their wellbeing and perhaps even thrive if they adopt a healthy lifestyle and choose to live and work in an environment that enhances their happiness and ability to grow. But genetics does not determine who we are, even if it does play a significant role in our wellbeing. What also matters are the choices we make about where we live, who we live with and how we live our lives.
- The Western intellectual tradition suggests that in order to be happy, what we need to do most of all is to go out and subdue the world; secure resources, found businesses, run governments, gain fame and conquer nations. By contrast, the Eastern tradition has for a long while told us something very different. In both its Buddhist and Hindu strands, it has insisted that contentment requires us to learn to conquer not the world but the instrument through which we view this world, namely our minds, noted The School of Life.
- Big think noted that the idea that work, or putting effort into tasks, contributes to our general wellbeing is closely related to the psychological concept of eudaimonic happiness. This is the sort of happiness that we derive from optimal functioning and realising our potential. Research has shown that work and effort is central to eudaimonic happiness, explaining that satisfaction and pride you feel on completing a gruelling task.
- Recent research suggested that acting unhappily is a likely way to actually become dissatisfied with life. By saying you’re unhappy, you can talk yourself out of joy and right into gloom, which won’t do anything to ease others’ suffering. What will help is striving to achieve and project happiness even while showing your concerns about wrongs to be righted in the world. In fact, your happiness will make you more effective in making the world a better place.
- We should understand happiness as a path, not a destination, as the result of permanent exercise and not as a goal that we will ever achieve, according to IE University president Santiago Iniguez, describing the thinking of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. To stay in a given situation, to maintain a personal relationship or to persist in a balanced state of mind, we need to keep making an effort.
- For the fourth year in a row, Finland beat all others in the World Happiness Report, per data from the Gallup World Poll. Despite the pandemic, top-performing countries were similar to 2019-20, which a contributor to the report attributed to solidarity in seeing "COVID-19 as a common, outside threat affecting everybody." The report takes into account GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom and perceptions of corruption.
- A happy worker is a productive worker, goes the maxim. But by 2020, noted Raconteur an increase in wages didn't necessarily equal greater happiness or output, posited the chairman and chief executive of Frank Recruitment Group, who pointed to recent Betterup research which showed nine out of 10 people are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work.
- Joy and happiness are often used synonymously, but designer Ingrid Fetell Lee argues that there is an important distinction between the two: time. Happiness is something that measures how good we feel over time, while joy is about feeling good in the moment. Noticing visual and sensorial patterns in the things that brought people joy, Lee identifies 10 "aesthetics": abundance, harmony, energy, freedom, play, surprise, transcendence, magic, renewal, and celebration and believes focusing on joyful moments is the key to getting the most out of life.
- A paper based on data compiled by Gallup, and which covered nearly 1.9m employees across 230 separate organisations in 73 countries, measured four potential measures of corporate performance: customer loyalty, employee productivity, profitability and staff turnover. It found that employee satisfaction had a substantial positive correlation with customer loyalty and a negative link with staff turnover. Furthermore, worker satisfaction was correlated with higher productivity and profitability. The authors also cited studies of changes within individual firms and organisations which seem to show that improvements in employee morale precede gains in productivity, rather than the other way round, leading The Economist to conclude that employee happiness and business success are linked.
- The eminent happiness researcher Richard Layard examined what makes an employee happy at work. His conclusion: it’s the same things that make people happy in their lives: a sense of belonging, social connections, and a purpose or meaning.
- The 2019 World Happiness Report, conducted by Gallup, uses a three-year rolling average of survey responses around six factors: GDP per capita; social support; life expectancy; freedom to make life choices; generosity; and corruption levels. Top-ranked country Finland scored well on all factors but particularly strongly on generosity. The authors say that helping others makes you feel better, but only if you choose to do it. Almost half of Finns donate regularly to charity and almost a third said they had given up time to volunteer for a charity in the previous month.
- The Copenhagen-based Happiness Research Institute pointed out that Finland tops the happiness list despite not having the highest GDP of the Nordic countries. It is the country’s social safety net combined with personal freedom and a good work-life balance that gives it the edge. The OECD’s Better Life Index added hat Finland’s sense of wellbeing may also be down to a feeling of personal safety in a troubled world. Finns feel good about their environment, sense of community and public services and education, but they worry about jobs and housing.
- People around the world are becoming more angry, stressed and worried. Of some 150,000 people interviewed in over 140 countries, a third in 2019 said they suffered stress, while at least one in five experienced sadness or anger.The annual Gallup Global Emotions Report asked people about their positive and negative experiences. The most negative country was Chad (where seven out of 10 people struggled to find food), followed by Niger. The most positive country was Paraguay.
- The School of Life is wary of the work happiness, preferring a term used by the Ancient Greeks: Eudaimonia, most commonly translated as ‘fulfilment’. What distinguishes happiness from fulfilment is pain. It is eminently possible to be fulfilled whilst experiencing our daily helping of sadness, discomfort, and suffering.
- Since 2005 Gallup has asked adults from around the world to rate their life satisfaction. In general, the richer the country, the higher the level of self-reported happiness. But the prediction that as a country gets richer its mood will improve has a dubious record, noted The Economist. Although economic downturns are reliable sources of temporary misery, long-term GDP growth does not seem to be enough to makes people happier.
- Given how much we all long to be happy, we might presume that accepting the possibility of happiness in our lives would be an uncomplicated, serene and automatic process. But for many, however theoretically attached we might be to the notion of being happy, the possibility of actually being so is liable to trigger deep ambivalence and fear. We would - it appears - often prefer to be worried and sad, argued The School of Life.
- Some research suggests that people’s unhappiness lies in overly high expectations and too little practice struggling with obstacles early on. Others, meanwhile, blames devotion to work and the fact that people have replaced traditional religious and family values with careers and callings as the source of meaning in their lives.
- In Workism Is Making Americans Miserable, The Atlantic claimed that for the college-educated elite, work has morphed into a religious identity- promising identity, transcendence, and community, but failing to deliver. Rich, college-educated people—especially men—work more than they did many decades ago. They are reared from their teenage years to make their passion their career and, if they don’t have a calling, told not to yield until they find one.
- Further reading:
- According to Pew, between 1980-2015, desk jobs increased 94% while physical labour only went up 12% While there is value in any form of engaging work, the loss of working with our hands means we no longer engage with our environment, perhaps a key reason why anxiety and stress rates are skyrocketing. Working with our hands affects brain chemistry in a positive way, while automation technologies can strip away a sense of agency and meaning in our lives, warned Big Think.
- Further reading:
- Perhaps some people don’t really want to be happy. A Nobel laureate says satisfaction is what most people actually want, and it’s entirely distinct from happiness.
- In What Kind of Happiness Do People Value Most?, Harvard Business Review reported on a series of studies, recently published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, which directly asked thousands of people (ages 18 to 81) about their preference between experienced and remembered happiness. It found that people’s preferences differed according to the length of time they were considering - and according to their culture. For Westerners, the happiness most people said they wanted for the next day was different from the happiness they said they wanted for their lifetime, even though one’s days add up to one’s life.
- Why the long face? Why does sadness inspire great art when happiness cannot? examined how sadness can make people seem nobler, more elegant, more adult. Which is pretty weird, when you think about it, noted Aeon, asking what it is it about sadness that often gets the creative juices flowing.
- Having money won’t make you happier – but spending it might, according to getabstract, arguing that the right spending habits can produce measurable changes in your physical and emotional well-being. In Happy Money, Elizabeth Dunn, an associate professor of psychology, and Michael Norton, an associate professor of marketing, distilled their findings into the five principles of “smart spending.” Among their tips: don’t buy stuff; buy experiences, as one may get more happiness out of a trip overseas or a visit to a museum through connecting with other people and accumulate memories.
- Further reading:
- More people are living longer these days - but what can we do to ensure that our added years are happy ones, asked Quartz? The answer, according to one researcher, lies in intergenerational friendships. While contemporary culture conspires to keep the young and old segregated from one another, initiatives in places like Singapore and London are creating opportunities for them to connect over shared meals, reading lessons, and dance parties.
- Russians have become happier, according to The Economist. Healthier living is replacing alcohol and curbing the country’s male suicide rate.
- Workers of all ages, genders, and regions say that happiness is the most important factor in their dream job, followed by purpose, work-life harmony, and money.
- Since 2010, the UK government has been tracking national well-being, by surveying citizens on four questions about how happy, satisfied and anxious they are, and how worthwhile they feel their life is. However, for Prospect, the fundamental problem here is that all the measures are quantitative, ranking how you feel on a one-to-10 scale, whereas the most important variations are qualitative. We can and should measure the things that generally help us live better - access to education, healthcare, a basic income and so on. But once our material needs are met, what makes life go better or worse is too varied, too personal, too indefinable to be meaningfully measured.
- What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, had unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction.
- Medical research suggests that happiness certainly can reduce the risk of heart problems, reported Raconteur. People with a positive outlook, who experience joy, happiness, excitement and contentment in their lives, are less likely to suffer heart disease, according to researchers from Harvard School of Public Health.They set out to examine the association between positive psychological wellbeing and cardiovascular disease, conducting a systemic review of all relevant existing research.
- Further reading:
- Philosophers have contemplated the nature of happiness for millennia, psychologists have attempted to unearth its existential building blocks and delineate its stages. And yet at the heart of it remains a mystery - wildly various across lives and within any one life, claimed Brain Pickings, pointing to Walt Whitman's reflections on the wisdom of trees, the singular power of music, how art imbues even the bleakest moments with beauty, and what makes life worth living.
- Brain Pickings also suggests that we consider definitions of happiness, as well as obstacles to it, before revisiting Whitman on how to live a vibrant and rewarding life.
- The government of Delhi added a new subject to the school curriculum in the hope that it will transform the educational outcomes of children - happiness. Pupils from pre-primary age up to 14 years old are receiving daily lessons in happiness, which include yoga and meditation and teaching children to take pride in their work. The classes start with mindfulness, followed by stories and activities. While there won’t be any exams associated with the new subject, teachers will make periodic assessments of children’s progress using a “Happiness Index”.
- Worabel is Korean shorthand slang for ‘work-life balance’. South Koreans famously put in some of the longest working hours on the planet; according to the OECD more than 20% of workers exceed 50 hours a week. And the average employee barely takes half of their leave days. The resulting stress, noted the BBC, contributes to a nation with a shockingly high number of suicides. It is also a factor in the country’s record low birth rate, as working mothers also carry the bulk of parenting responsibilities. The government’s solution for this pile-up of problems: make everyone happier.
- A team at the University of Sheffield in the UK claimed that the more time children spend online the less happy they are about their school, their appearance, their family and their life in general. Spending just sixty minutes per day on social media reduced happiness by 14% according to the study.
- Schools in India are offering happiness classes. Courses in meditation and personal well-being aim to bolster mental health.
- How happy are people today? Were people happier in the past? How satisfied with their lives are people in different societies? And how do our living conditions affect all of this? Big questions, which Our World in Data has now tried to answer empirically.
Happiness is subjective, argued Quartz, noting for example that married couples have competing accounts of how much time they spend together, or how many arguments they have?.One of the few constant findings in marriage research is that spouses tend to view the same relationship quite differently. Married spouses often give researchers contrasting reports on virtually everything: how the chores are shared, how often they have sex, and even how much money they earn. But, Quartz found, taken together, data paints a picture of lasting marriage as a long process of letting go of conflict and learning how to be together.
- A much-discussed article for The Atlantic, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation,” charts accelerating social collapse. Teenagers are suddenly less likely to date, less likely to leave the home without their parents, more likely to put off the activities of adulthood. They are spending more time alone with their digital screens, and the greater the screen time, the greater the unhappiness. Eighth graders who are heavy users of social media are 27 percent more likely to be depressed.
- The UK town of Rochdale is currently experimenting with the Rochdale feelgood index, a machine learning system that gauges the happiness of residents in real-time, using tweets sent in the city. The feelgood index is less expensive and time-consuming than traditional polls to measure happiness and wellbeing. Rochdale officials hope to use the index to help identify possible improvements in public services, as well as to study whether less affluent areas of Rochdale experience chronically lower levels of wellbeing.
- In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle proposed that humans are social, rational animals that seek to “live well". To that end, he proposed a system of ethics designed to help us reach eudaimonia, a world that means living well or flourishing. Eudaimonia is reached by living virtuously and building up your character traits until you don’t even have to think about your choices before making the right one.
- The Frankfurt School theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor W Adorno called ‘the culture industry’ the way that Hegel’s ‘unhappy consciousness’ had been masked by the pleasures of mass culture and consumption, preventing its victims from feeling the pangs of their true condition.
- Finns aren’t happy about their reputation for being happy. The country’s top ranking in the World Happiness Report was met with scepticism at home, claimed Quartz.
- Analysis in The Atlantic showed that 1) Generally speaking, richer countries are happier countries. But since many of these rich countries share other traits -- they're mostly democracies with strong property rights traditions, for example -- some studies suggest that it's our institutions that are making us happy, not just the wealth. 2) Generally speaking, richer people are happier people. But young people and the elderly appear less influenced by having more money. 3) But money has diminishing returns - like just about everything else. Satisfaction rises with income until about $75,000 (or perhaps as high as $120,000). After that, researchers have had trouble proving that more money makes that much of a difference.
- While true happiness may have a different definition to each of us, some claim that science can give us a glimpse at the underlying biological factors behind happiness. From the food we eat to room temperature, there are thousands of factors that play a role in how our brains work and the moods that we are in.
- Recent studies suggest that one common factor can be found in the "happiest" 10% of people: the strength of their social relationships. Psychological research also seems to show that, as people get older, they generally become happier, more content, and have a more positive outlook on the world.
- Meanwhile, at the societal level, tools like The Happy Planet Index (see video below) measure the happiness of countries in relation to the amount of resources each one uses, while the Mappiness (see image) app beeps users once (or more) a day to ask how they're feeling, and a few basic things to control for: who they're with, where they are and what they're doing, and builds from this a barometer of societal mood.
- Can we imagine how we might all become just slightly happier, rather than trying to solve the insoluble - i.e. the perennial problem of human happiness and fulfilment? Becoming happier is a subject that has occupied some of history's greatest thinkers, but how do we sort the good ideas from the bad? Are there any hard and fast rules when it comes to happiness, and should we trust anyone who claims to know the secret?
- Over many years journalist Oliver Burkeman travelled to some of the strangest corners of the 'happiness industry' in an attempt to find out; he subsequently recounted his findings to an RSA audience. From stress, procrastination and insomnia, to laughter, creativity and wealth, Burkeman suggested how we might imagine achieving a more realistic goal - i.e. becoming slightly happier.
- Can we also imagine how we might become better parents, partners, colleagues, citizens...by not looking for happiness for our own sakes, but instead through helping others?
- Meanwhile, while per capital income has more than doubled in the US since 1972, subjective measures of well-being, like happiness, remain unchanged, according to the UN’s 2018 World Happiness Report. Health crises - from opioids to obesity - haven’t helped. Indeed there is even now a "misery index", a crude economic measure that adds together a country's unemployment and inflation rate.
- Gross National Happiness, written into Bhutan's constitution, which emphasises the importance of Gross National Happiness over Gross Domestic Product, stipulated the country must have at least 60 percent forest cover.