The fourth World Happiness Report again has Denmark as the most happy country in the world and the least happy were Burundi, Syria , Togo, Afghanistan, Benin, Rwanda, Guinea and Liberia.

The variables used were GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity and perception of corruption.  Australia was ranked ninth after New Zealand, Netherlands, Canada, Finland, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The reports are of interest as many governments, communities and organizations are using happiness data and the results of subjective well-being research to improve policies rather than income, poverty and education. Bhutan have been measuring happiness levels in their population since 1972. they use their Gross National Happiness level as a basis for making policy decisions.

The term happiness has been difficult to define, through the years philosophers, poets, religious writers, scientists, psychologists and politicians have made various attempts. Happiness and positive emotions widen our range of thoughts and actions, foster play, exploration and creativity and allow us to be open to new ideas and experiences. These allow us to create personal resources, connections  and knowledge to draw upon in more stressful times. 

Studies of twins have demonstrated that up to 50% of our satisfaction with life comes from genetic predisposition, but neuroscientists have demonstrated that the brain is highly plastic and can rewire and change in response to life experiences.

Happiness is associated with longer life and improved health. Happy people are also more likely to spend more time exercising and participating in health maintenance. 

There has been no relationship shown between how happy a person is and how much money they earn, and those for whom money, success, fame and appearance are important are much less satisfied than those who strive for good relationships with others, develop their talents and are active in social causes.

The psychologist Martin Seligman became president of the American Psychological Association in 1998, and became a pioneer of positive psychology, he used research and a significant public profile and appearances  to improve interest in authentic happiness and the area now called positive psychology. He outlines three ways to increase happiness: get more pleasure out of life, become more engaged in what you do and find ways of making your life more meaningful

Useful websites are:

Positive Psychology Institute - www.the

Martin Seligman's website has interactive webinars, positive psychology information, a happiness quiz to take and online courses

The Black Dog Institute has a fact sheet on Positive Psychology for practical strategies on how to increase happiness

Centre for Confidence and Well-being, Scotland

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