Mark and I recently traveled to Bhutan to run in the Bhutan International Marathon (half marathon for me!). “Where/what is Bhutan?” you ask? So glad you did! Bhutan is a small kingdom in the Himalayas (the size of Switzerland, bordered by Tibet to the north and India to the south, with roughly 750,000 citizens) that is known for measuring its “Gross National Happiness.” It was an extraordinary trip worthy of its own blog and it got me to thinking about the happiness level in other countries around the world.
As it happens, the World Happiness Report is out, and a group of independent experts have now compiled surveys of people in 156 countries asking them to evaluate their lives on a scale of 1-10. They then looked at some of the factors that seem to contribute to happiness and identified five:
- real GDP per capita (a measure of average wealth)
- healthy life expectancy at birth
- freedom to make life choices
- generosity, and
- whether or not they perceived their society to have elements of corruption
Number One on the list is Norway and you might note a certain pattern when you see the runners-up: 2) Denmark, 3) Iceland, 4) Switzerland, 5) Finland, 6) The Netherlands and 7) Canada. Sweden comes in at number 10, rounding out the socialistic Nordic societies. In between are 8) New Zealand and 9) Australia.
Where does the U.S. rank? Number 14 behind Israel (11), Costa Rica (12) and Austria (13). The U.S. ranked poorly in social support and, interestingly, mental illness. America’s ranking was as high as third in 2007, when people were less likely to cite corruption as a part of their lives.
Where are people least happy? Most African countries reported low levels of happiness. Also of note, the people in China report being no happier today than they were 25 years ago, despite rapidly-growing per capita income. Chinese respondents to the survey attribute their lagging happiness to rising unemployment and a poor social safety net for the less fortunate.
Now before you start to cultivate a little black cloud over your head (since we live in Number 14), consider the work of psychologist Dr. Sonja Lyubormisrky who is the author of The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. Her research shows that only 10% of someone’s happiness can be attributed to their life circumstances (like their wealth, health, or the country in which they live). Of the remaining 90%, about 50% is a “happiness set point” that we have from birth and a whopping 40% lies within our power to change.
It’s a nice reminder that regardless of where we live (Bhutan came Number 97 on the survey in between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan), happy people can be found anywhere and everywhere in the world because they choose to be happy. See you on the sunny side of the street!
“People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”