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It should be no wonder that a class based on the science behind happiness research is the most popular course offered at Harvard University (1). As Benjamin Franklin once stated, “The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” Truly, the search for happiness is the American dream.

Happiest Countries in the World

Happiness research has suggested that:

  • 50% of our happiness levels are determined by a genetic set point/range,
  • 40% by our intentioned actions,
  • And only 10% by life’s circumstances (e.g. income, social status, place of residence, age).

Taking into account the science of epigenetics and our ability to turn on and off certain genes, it appears that the 50% subject to genetics can be “altered” or modified by our thoughts and actions. Thus, it remains to be seen that up to 90% of our ability to be happy is completely up to us!

The world authority on happiness and well-being research, Dr. Ed Diener (2), of the University of Illinois (3) has studied 155 countries (99% of the world) and has come up with some very telling conclusions. First off, Denmark is ranked the happiest place on earth. Some of the reasons Denmark is ranked so high is that the Danes trust each other. When asked on the Gallup World Poll, “If I lost my wallet would a stranger return it?” A vast majority of the Danes said, “yes!”

Latin American countries like Costa Rico are considered relatively happy. Supporting culture, large extended families, and numerous celebrations makes life enjoyable for them. Also noteworthy are the Masai, a small herding culture in Africa. They are a proud people who have high self-esteem as they are self-sustaining, able to live off the land, and they are know for enjoying their social relationships.

As you’d expect, the poorest countries in the world hold the lowest rankings in the Gallup Poll. The four saddest countries in the world (Togo being the lowest) have incomes that are up to 40 times lower than the four happiest countries, the report said.

According to polls from 2005 to 2011, these were the happiest countries in the world:

  1. Denmark
  2. Finland
  3. Norway
  4. Netherlands
  5. Canada
  6. Switzerland
  7. Sweden
  8. New Zealand
  9. Australia
  10. Ireland
  11. United States

Factors Shown to Impact Happiness

People can expect to live 28 years longer in the happiest nations. These are generally places where people have their own internal standards and are satisfied in their work; using their skills, mastering a career, and loving what they do. Generally, these are not places where there is social competition or excessive materialism, regardless of affluence.

Economic growth; however, doesn’t necessarily drive up happiness. When money buys someone out of the burdens of homelessness, then money can in effect, “buy happiness.” But once basic needs are met money has little to do with happiness.

Strong, healthy social relationships are the one common denominator of all the happiest places on earth.

Other contributing factors discovered by happiness research includes:

  • Life satisfaction
  • Doing activities you love
  • Loving other people
  • Using skills
  • Continually learning
  • Curbing anger and negativity
  • Having life goals that are bigger than yourself
  • Living around more green space
  • Short work commutes

An interesting finding from Diener’s is that raising children does not contribute to happiness or sadness. Happiness research shows that if someone desires to have children, then child rearing will bring great happiness. Whereas, if someone does not like children and the responsibilities associated with raising them, then child rearing will contribute to sadness.

Ultimately we know that God calls us to experience the true joy of living an abundant life and we strive to honor that as we make wise choices that impact our happiness here on earth.



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