Post by Riya Gohil, Happiness Alliance Intern and student in Business Administration at Wilson College, Mumbai India.
Kell’ onni on se onnen kätkeköön is a famous saying in Finland that means ‘Who has happiness should hide it.”. Ironically Finland is also the happiest country in the world!
In 2021, The World Happiness Report of 2021 determined that Finland is the happiest country for the fourth year in a row, with Denmark following closely. The report also includes the world’s unhappiest countries, which fall at the bottom of the list of 149 countries. This made me wonder why Finland is so happy and the countries at the bottom of the list so unhappy.. Surprisingly, many of my preconceived notions about happiness have been bashed.
But first, what is the World Happiness Report? The United Nations Sustainable Solutions Network publishes a report on 20th March (World Happiness Day) which includes rankings and articles about the happiness of countries. The rankings are calculated by asking respondents about their satisfaction with life. Six factors are considered to influence satisfaction with life: - average gross domestic product, healthy life expectancy, generosity (charitable donations), social support (someone there in times of need), freedom in life choices and sense of corruption in government.
“Money can’t buy happiness” is a proverb widely known but seldom believed. While money can solve many problems, research has found that happiness does increase with the increase in income, but after it reaches a certain point (about $75000 USD per year in the US, or the equivalent in other countries), there is not much of a gain in happiness. This is known as the Easterlin Paradox. It was first proposed by Richard Easterlin, an economist, who studied happiness data as early as 1974. People in Finland are relatively well off and extremely wealthy. For the most part, in Finland, Instead of trying to get filthy rich, people are more focused on the other aspects of life.
For the very poor, Finland’s ‘Housing First’ policy tackles the problem of homelessness with an aim to provide people with a roof before other services. The Finns believe that problems like addiction, mental illness, and unemployment are easier to tackle if people have their own abode.
For the most part, the Finns believe in work-place autonomy, and follow a flat working model where the hierarchical levels are low so that the workers feel equal to their colleagues. They think that this is crucial for the productivity and happiness of the employees.
With an abundance of natural environment, low levels of pollution, low levels of economic and social inequality and a laid back lifestyle, it is not surprising that people are happier in Finland. These feats sound like a distant dream for the world but they are possible!
We got our start in 2010, as a project of Sustainable Seattle, world renown for being, the first nonprofit to create regional sustainability indictors through a community-based approach. The Happiness Index was Sustainable Seattle’s fifth set of sustainability indicators, a departure from previous approaches in taking subjective indicator approach. The Happiness Index is based on Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index, with permission from high level governmental officials. In 2011, the Seattle City Government joined Somerville Maine as being the first two cities in the USA to measure happiness and use the data. In Seattle, the Seattle City Council used our Happiness Index data, provided through the 2011 Seattle Area Happiness Initiative report, to make budgeting decisions. By 2012, cities and communities across the USA were using the Happiness Index, and in Seattle, still part of Sustainable Seattle. That same year, the Happiness Alliance worked with refugee and immigrant communities to measurably assess social justice and racial inequality with the support of the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. In 2012, the Happiness Alliance became its own nonprofit, with the blessing of Sustainable Seattle’s board of directors, because of the spreading use of the Happiness Index across the globe. People in over 125 nations use the Happiness Index to assess their wellbeing, and communities in over 20 nations are using the Happiness Index to assess community wellbeing. Our project, Planet Happiness was launched in 2018 as the first to bring the Happiness Movement to the tourism sector.
Post by Riya Gohil, Happiness Alliance Intern and student in Business Administration at Wilson College, Mumbai India.
Recently, I took on an internship with the Happiness Alliance, and as a part of it, I took the Happiness Index. I was surprised to learn that the average Happiness Index score of happiness for youth is 57.5 out of 100 because youth is supposed to be one of the happiest times in life. This made me wonder about how the Happiness Index measures happiness. I learned a lot, and I wrote this post to explain how the questions in the Happiness Index relate to your happiness, and what my experience was of taking the Index.
If you haven’t taken the survey, here it is.
The Happiness Index is a survey that measures your happiness in 10 different areas of your life. The data collected from the survey is used to evaluate the happiness of people.
Satisfaction with Life
The Happiness Index measures this in two sections. One is called the Cantril Ladder. For the Cantril Ladder question, you imagine that you have a ladder in front of you. If you climb on top of it, you will see a beautiful view of the skyline but if you are stuck at the bottom, you are mired in mud. Your best possible life is at the top of the ladder and your worst possible life is at the bottom. The Cantril Ladder is an instrument to measure your satisfaction with life. We use the Cantril Ladder to help you better understand your standing in life and help you climb up the ladder! When I started the survey, I was surprised by the straightforwardness of the question but it is better than beating around the bush.
The other section is similar to the Cantril Ladder as it also measures your satisfaction with life but it dives a little deeper. Without being satisfied with your life, you cannot enjoy what it has to offer. This portion of the Happiness Index let me evaluate my feelings so that I could face them with courage. I realised that simple questions sometimes make a big impact. I was able to compare my happy days with my anxious ones and was prompted to do something about the latter ones!
The next section is Psychological well-being. Psychological well-being is the aspect where, it seems to me, your happiness matters the most. If you are not optimistic about your future, do not have a sense of purpose or just don’t feel positive about yourself, naturally your happiness suffers. Your mental health is as important as your physical health. I have witnessed a mental health revolution in India in the past year because of the pandemic and the dents that it has put on people’s lives. Many people have come forward to narrate their struggles, to lend a helping hand and provide resources for people in need. I have seen in my life how the pandemic has negatively impacted my mental health, but also how helping others in these difficult times has been good for me.
The mental health section is followed by a section for physical health. - Joseph Pilates, originator of Pilates exercise routines, said “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.” I think Joseph Pilates makes a good point. You may have heard your friends or family members tell you how they started feeling better after sweating it out in the gym. Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins which helps in elevating your mood and is also a natural painkiller. I have been practicing Yoga for some time now. It helps me in uplifting my mood besides the fact that it gives my muscles a good stretch!
I was surprised to find an entire section dedicated to time balance. - One of my favorite sayings is “You are the main character in the story of your life” by Timothy Kurek, an author and public speaker. I like this saying because it makes me realise that I am responsible for my own happiness. A large chunk of our lives is spent doing worldly things that fill the tummy, give shelter and a sense of safety. You attend your classes, go to your jobs or exhaust yourselves while trying to run a business. But in between this chaos, how much time do you actually spend doing things that put a smile on your face? This aspect of the survey helped me to realise that it’s okay to slow down a bit in this fast paced world and focus on what I love.
Lifelong Learning, Arts and Culture
One of the shorter sections is called Lifelong Learning, Arts and Culture. This section measures a lot with just a few questions. My neighbour, a small girl, once saw some boys playing cricket and longed to play it herself. The boys were unhelpful and she did not have access to expensive coaching centres. I saw how this broke her spirit. Having opportunities to learn and do what you love is an important factor that contributes to your happiness. This section also measures your experience with discrimination. Inclusion and belongingness is crucial to your wellbeing. When you feel excluded, your happiness decreases in many ways. You may identify with a certain group of people and are proud that you belong to a certain culture or ethnicity. But belonging to one group does not mean that people who do not belong should be discriminated against. Being discriminated against leaves a feeling of contempt, inferiority and makes a person feel anxious. I think that we should focus on feelings of inclusion and belongingness no matter what the group, as these are necessary for your well-being.
Like satisfaction with life, community is measured in two sections. The first one is simply called Community. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, said “Man is a social animal.” Connection with others of our kind is a basic survival need. Community can include people that live around you, people you study with or a group of people with whom you take a walk. Community serves as an outlet for people to share their thoughts, to help and get help or to simply joke around. The Happiness Index has some interesting questions that made me think about my relations with people around me. In particular, it made me rethink my relationships with my neighbors, and see how important it is to have good, trusting relations.
The second section that measures community is called Social Support. It has a separate section because personal relationships can make or break a person. Having a loving family, supportive friends and an understanding partner can dramatically affect your happiness. Some people I know are told as they grow up, to be tough and independent. This preaching is not only wrong but also insensitive. I think the feeling of being cared for and loved is a basic requisite for the survival of humans, and this section made me grateful to my family and friends for all their love and support.
Following the sections for community is the environment - One beautiful saying that I came across while reading an article was “The dirtier the feet, the happier the heart.” To me, this means that spending more time with nature boosts the production of serotonin (the happy hormone) in your brain. I find that the benefits of spending time in the natural environment are innumerable. It increases my focus, uplifts my mood, makes me feel energised, improves eyesight and brings a sense of serenity. With the crisis of climate change hovering over us like a dark cloud because of the degradation of the environment, people are feeling less connected with nature than ever. The concrete jungle has created a gloomy atmosphere. I recently planted a turmeric plant at my window which made me want to care for it like a child. The fruit of the plant was satisfying. Nature really does give more than it takes!
The next section is Government. - Government has a large but sometimes not noticed impact on life. You pay taxes, are bound by the laws of the country and enjoy the facilities that it provides. From education to income to jobs to entertainment and much more, all aspects of your life somehow navigate its way back to the government. In many ways, the government sets the stage for happiness. In other words, it is the responsibility of the government to secure and protect people’s opportunities to be happy. This section of the Happiness Index asks you about your trust in the government and your view of the corruption in government. These questions are particularly relevant today with the uproar and protests all around the world. And by the way- to know more about how governments can create policies that prioritise the happiness of their people, read our book, The Happiness Policy Handbook.
Standard of Living
The second last section is Standard of Living. The widely used parameter for measuring the growth and prosperity of a country is average Gross Domestic Product(GDP) per capita. But GDP only measures the amount of goods and services produced in a year. It is insufficient to evaluate the real happiness of the people. If people are not happy, economic prosperity is of little use.
The last section in the Happiness Index is Work. - Some people go to the workplace everyday, silently wishing that they wouldn't have to go. They come home late, eat and then go to sleep. They repeat this cycle everyday to the point where their job is only a source of dissatisfaction in life. Working 8 - 10 hours a day without liking what you do affects your happiness negatively. Whatever your work, feeling a sense of responsibility and having a passion for what you do makes your work life interesting.
This section measures Work-life balance, instead of the time balance section which measures feeling rushed, leisure time and doing things you like. When your work-life is out of balance, you can feel distressed. Taking some time off to do things that you love is paramount for your happiness. As a student with lectures to attend and internships to work on, it is difficult to find time for myself. This is why I take at least half an hour from my day to read a book or listen to music to disconnect for a while.
The Happiness Index is a comprehensive measure of wellbeing that gives you lots to think about. There are other aspects of wellbeing in every section that could be included, but I understand that if every aspect were added, the survey would be too long to take - even for me.
When you get your scores, you have an idea about the extent to which you are happy and satisfied with your life. It encouraged me to make small changes in my life so that I can lead a better life. I hope it's a start of something good for you too!
You can donate to our cause for sustainable happiness and be a part of the happiness movement!