• December 2014

The Science of Understanding Happiness

When it comes to assessing happiness, what guidelines do you use?

Bhutan, a mountainous country that is about the size of Maryland, is famously isolated. Nestled between India and Tibet, cell phones and television were only recently introduced.

This tiny country has had a big impact in the field of happiness research, because rather than measure GNP (gross national product), the country focuses on GNH—gross national happiness.

How do they assess it?

According to the Bhutan government, GNH is the “promotion of equitable and sustainable socioeconomic development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.”

How happy is the rest of the world? Scroll down for insight.

The World Happiness Report: The United Nations General Assembly’s World Happiness Report 2013 includes evidence of global convergence of happiness levels. Happiness gains were more common in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and losses more common among the industrial countries.

For the 130 countries with data available, happiness (as measured by people’s own evaluations of their lives) significantly improved in 60 countries and worsened in 41. The five countries that the report identifies as having the highest levels of happiness are all in the same region of the world:

  1. Denmark
  2. Norway
  3. Switzerland
  4. Netherlands
  5. Sweden

Happiness and Life Satisfaction: The World Values Survey shows that from 1981 to 2007, happiness rose in 45 of the 52 countries for which long-term data are available. Since 1981, economic development, democratization, and rising social tolerance have increased the extent to which people perceive that they have free choice, which in turn has led to higher levels of happiness around the world.

One of the most striking shifts measured by the WVS was the sharp decline in happiness reported in Russia and in many other ex-communist countries during the 1990s.

Happiness and Health: The World Database of Health
helps us discover if happiness is good for your health. This commonly held belief was tested in a synthetic analysis of 30 follow-up studies on happiness and longevity.

It appears that happiness does not predict longevity in sick populations, but that it does predict longevity among healthy populations So, happiness does not cure illness, but it does protect against becoming ill.

Happiness Studies: The Journal of Happiness Studies is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the scientific understanding of subjective well-being. Coverage includes both cognitive evaluations of life, such as life-satisfaction, and affective enjoyment of life, such as mood level. In addition to contributions on appraisal of life as a whole, the journal runs papers on such aspects of life as job-satisfaction and the perceived meaning of life.