It’s been a long, heavy year. For many people, “happy” is probably not the word they would use to describe their experience. That’s unfortunate, because we have so much to be grateful for. It’s just hard to see the forest through the trees.
Happiness is a feeling, just like anger or hunger or excitement. It comes and goes. When you ask someone where they want to be in the future, they usually say “happy”. But you have to dig deeper. True happiness comes from a combination of all the situations, people, and practices you have in your life. Finding out what those things are for you is the best chance you have at being consistently happy.
Every year, a group of experts explore data collected by an agency commissioned by the United Nations. They release the world happiness report, filled with all sorts of interesting data. Let’s go through some of the findings, as well as what we can all do to improve our own happiness and the happiness of our nations.
THE SEVEN FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE HAPPINESS
Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland often “compete” for the top spot. This is because their averages on the following data points are so close to each other. The seven main factors that support and influence individual happiness are:
+ Good Governance
The descriptions of these factors include “having someone to count on in times of trouble” and “the absence of corruption in business and government”. Some of these things we can control, some we cannot. Most of us would agree we could spend more time increasing our generosity, honesty, and caring.
THE BIGGEST SOURCE OF MISERY IS MENTAL ILLNESS
In the united states, approximately 1-in-5 adults experience some sort of mental illness during the year. 1-in-25 experiences a debilitating mental illness that interferes with one or more life activities.
The entire globe is trying to figure out what mental illness actually is. It’s important to take in information from all sides, like the Mad in America site that adamantly states “chemical imbalances” are a myth, and we are in an over-diagnosing, over-treating, and over-prescribing (see: $$$) epidemic that promotes “infantilizing” society. On the other hand, medicine and therapy has saved lives countless times over.
Regardless, anyone who as experienced an “episode” of ongoing mental illness knows it sucks. And just like everyone should serve in a restaurant to understand how terrible that is (so they treat wait staff better), everyone should feel what it’s like to try and complete even the most basic of tasks when mentally ill (to improve compassion).
At the end of the day, to stay mentally healthy, you need to keep a laser focus on your physical health, support network, habits, and spirit. Medication can give you a boost, like a supplement for your workouts. Deep, challenging changes in your psychology will give you the most benefit. Therapy to improve your thought processes will be the icing on the cake.
YOUR WORK REALLY, REALLY MATTERS
It’s heartbreaking to think of the billions of people stuck in jobs they absolutely hate, especially if they have the opportunity to change. Many people have worked a crappy job out of necessity, and that can really wear one down. But the largest effect on happiness is unemployment.
Worldwide, people with jobs evaluate their quality of life much higher than those without jobs. Besides just additional income, this could also relate to having purpose, direction, and working with a team.
The aspects of a happy job include:
+ Work-life balance
+ Job security
+ Social capital
+ Low health and safety risks
There are also lower happiness rates in manual labor jobs. Regardless of what you believe your skills to be, keep your eyes out for new careers with more of the above aspects, even if it means a pay cut. Your future happy self will thank you.
THE #1 WAY TO BE HAPPY
Happiness has declined in the United States. Hop on Twitter, and you’ll see we probably didn’t need an extensive world happiness report to learn that. But if we can discover why we are becoming less happy, can we reverse the trend?
Two of our variables moved in a positive direction: income and healthy life expectancy. But if these moved our happiness up by 1 point, the following factors moved it back down by 8: less social support, less sense of personal freedom, and more perceived corruption of government and business.
Even though those factors can only explain about half of our total drop in happiness, the report drives home the fact that our problem lies with social issues over economic ones.
It makes sense; our neighborhoods are built of seperate boxes that stay empty all day long, and keep us secluded at night. Social media has had an incredible influence on friendships, bullying, and social anxiety. Independence has become the golden standard, whereas many happy nations encourage children to continue living with and supporting the family until marriage (without sacrificing maturity, of course. This is called interdependence, not dependence). So, what should we do?
Connect. Make an effort to talk to your coworkers, they’re just as bored and alone as you are. Join a local team, from soccer to dart league. Volunteer every month, and hang out with the most kindhearted people you will ever meet. Help someone who is obviously not okay, so you can receive the same attention down the road.
Keep your eyes on those Scandinavian countries, they seem to be on to something. Download the 2017 World Happiness Report and read some of these fascinating insights yourself. And most importantly, be good to each other. Hatred, disconnection, and anger cannot win.
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