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The measure of happiness March 7, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in Canada, life, world.
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World Map of Happiness, 2006

 

You may not be able to buy happiness, but you don’t have to look far to find a multitude of ways to try.

As a baby boomer — I’m at the back of the pack — I find I’ve been asking myself if I’m happy or if I need to make any life changes. I reluctantly admit that my growing awareness of life slipping by is a sign of middle age. But it doesn’t help that there is a recent bumper crop of books with titles like “1,000 things to do before you die”. The pursuit of happiness (or “happyness”, as in the 2006 movie starring Will Smith) is in full swing.

Now, in some ways, I’m predisposed to happiness. I read on CBC yesterday how researchers have discovered that genes are responsible for certain personality traits:

“Those who are conscientious, extroverted and not overly neurotic are more likely to be happy. People with these personality traits also tend to have a happiness buffer to help them through hard times.”

I’ve always said that optimism is in my blood because my blood type is “B+”, so I’d say I definitely have the right genes. OK, check. And not too long ago, a quality of life survey found that people in my home town — Saint John, New Brunswick — were the happiest in all of Canada. The results suggest that knowing and trusting your neighbours is a major factor, and more likely in smaller cities with static populations and deep roots. OK, I’ll give myself half a check for that one, because I’ve been in Ontario for almost 20 years.

As well, there’s a current trend — started by the tiny country of Bhutan — where economists measure the GNH (gross national happiness) rather than relying on the GDP (gross domestic product). I remember listening to the Quirks and Quarks program on happiness research, first broadcast in May 2006 on CBC, and being fascinated

Then a few years back, University of Leicester psychologist Adrian White — following a trend in studying “positive psychology” — prepared a World Map of Happiness, based on the findings of over 100 different studies around the world, which questioned 80,000 people worldwide, as well as data about regional health, wealth and access to education. Adrian concluded:

“There is a belief that capitalism leads to unhappy people. However, when people are asked if they are happy with their lives, people in countries with good healthcare, a higher GDP per captia, and access to education were much more likely to report being happy.”

The study results show that the 10 happiest nations are:

  1. Denmark
  2. Switzerland
  3. Austria
  4. Iceland
  5. The Bahamas
  6. Finland
  7. Sweden
  8. Bhutan
  9. Brunei
  10. Canada

OK, as a resident of Canada, I’ll give myself another checkmark. By the way, the U.S. scored 23 on the list, the UK 41, and the unhappiest of all was Burundi, at 178. It’s interesting to consider that the American constitution names “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as unalienable rights, while in Canada, our constitution aims for “peace, order and good government”.

On the “Global Estimate of Life Satisfaction” test, which includes such things as family and work relationships, I scored a 7.9 — “satisfied” — a pretty high rating. That deserves another check. And I’ll add one more check because, as a member of the boomer generation which is supposed to be one of the most affluent and secure — and self-indulgent — in Canadian history. Not that I’m affluent (in the least), but I really do have everything that I want need, and that puts me in the privileged class for sure.

So, let’s see: I scored 4 1/2. I think that’s pretty good. How would you measure your happiness?

I don’t think I have to do 1,000 things before I die. Instead, perhaps I’ll think about how to spread that happiness around a little more.

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Related Links:
CBC Quirks and Quarks: Happiness
CBC: “Happy genes set you up for life”

New York Times: “A new measure of well-being”
Test Yourself: General Inventory of Life Satisfaction
“Why the GDP says little about authentic happiness”
Gross International Happiness
Toronto Star: “Much to do about… much to do

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Comments»

1. lavenderbay - March 7, 2008

You touch briefly on the difference between stated American and Canadian ideals. According to your stats, the country that actively pursues happiness is only half as happy as the country not pursuing happiness. So then, should we be pursuing happiness, or do we gain happiness through pursuing other things? Also, to what degree does happiness (a neutral to positive term) equal complacency (a term with negative connotations)? I’d be interested in seeing how you would elaborate on those aspects of the subject.
Cheers!

2. bhutan times - March 24, 2008

[…] Pingback from a Bhutan news site […]


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