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Amid War and Disease, World Happiness Report Shows Bright Spot

In times of turmoil, the World Happiness Report 2022 reports a bright light despite the dark times. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has brought pain and suffering, it has also increased social support and benevolence. As we now battle the ills of disease and war, it is especially important to remember the universal desire for happiness and the capacity of individuals to rally to each other’s support in times of great need.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the World Happiness Report, which uses global survey data to report how people evaluate their lives in more than 150 countries worldwide. It has been an amazing journey of research and data collection, but, most of all, a journey of achieving a growing understanding of global human happiness.

The very message of the report has reached many people willing to make a change in their communities and countries. It is known now that the true measure of progress is people’s happiness, that happiness can be measured, and the factors that cause it. And with this accumulated knowledge, policy-makers are now able to make people’s happiness the goal of their policies.

Happiness, Benevolence, and Trust During COVID-19 and Beyond

Overall levels of life evaluations have been fairly stable during the two years of COVID-19. Finland remains in the top position as the happiest globally for the fifth year running, followed by Denmark in 2nd and all five Nordic countries among the top eight countries, joined by Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. France reached its highest ranking to date, at 20th, while Canada slipped to its lowest ranking ever, at 15th, just behind Germany at 14th, followed closely by the United States and the United Kingdom at 16th and 17th.

Trust and benevolence have, if anything, become more important. Higher institutional trust continues to be linked to lower death rates from COVID-19 to a greater extent in 2021 than in 2020, which set the stage for maintaining or rebuilding a sense of common purpose to deliver happier, healthier, and more sustainable lives. 

Global benevolence increased remarkably in 2021, up by almost 25% of its pre-pandemic level, led by the helping of strangers, but with strong growth in donations and volunteering. We should all hope that the pandemic of benevolence will live far beyond COVID-19. If sustainable, this outpouring of kindness will provide grounds for hope and optimism in a world needing more of both.

Trends in Conceptions of Progress and Well-being

The role and prominence of happiness and its related concepts and terminology are on the rise in books, research, government and private construction of progress indicators, and central government policy initiatives. In the last quarter-century, the words’ happiness’ and ‘income’ have undergone opposite trajectories, respectively doubling and halving their use in printed books.

The policy is increasingly part of the context when academics discuss happiness, and governments are increasingly innovating in articulating social objectives and well-being indicators. Nevertheless, the efforts that are likely to endure involve some deep form of accountability to the democratic process or empirical evidence when specifying the weights or constituents in indicator systems. 

A future expectation is that well-connected, international collaborations among innovating governments are likely to address the challenges mentioned in the World Happiness Report and develop concepts of progress that incorporate happiness appropriately and are clear, compelling, informative, and useful for monitoring progress and improving policy.

Using Social Media Data to Capture Emotions Before and During COVID-19

During the pandemic, our social lives moved online to a larger extent than ever before, as opportunities for face-to-face social contact became increasingly limited. That’s why the authors of the World Happiness Report have focused on what can be learned about people’s emotional experiences and well-being from analyzing text data on social media. 

Such data is relevant for emotion research because emotions are not only internal experiences but are often social in nature. Given their valuable social function, emotions are regularly shared with other people, influencing other people’s emotions. The authors have concluded that emotion measures based on social media postings can track emotions at a society-wide level. Social media and survey data may potentially contribute some unique information to predict outcomes like suicide hotline calls, hospital visits, police calls, or overdose rates. Future research could explore if combining social media and representative survey data sources could help better predict and respond to such important outcomes.

Exploring the Biological Basis for Happiness

Studies based on European ancestry samples reveal that genetic differences between people account for approximately 40% of the differences in happiness, while the remaining variance is accounted for by environmental influences unique to an individual. Additionally, the importance of genetic influences is not fixed from birth but can change throughout the lifespan and in response to current environmental conditions. 

It is safe to say that estimates of the importance of genetic and environmental influences are just the starting point for much further research that explores the intricate ways in which genetic and environmental propensities play out across a lifespan and in response to changing experiences and exposures. Genetic studies are likely to be a gamechanger for studying happiness and well-being and have a ground-breaking impact on intervention models and strategies. 

Insights From the First Global Survey of Balance and Harmony

The empirical insight into how balance/harmony is linked with happiness around the globe is rare and under-studied, mainly due to a lack of data. However, the data collected in the World Happiness Report shows that experiences of, and preferences for, balance/harmony appear to have universal relevance and appeal.

Contrary to some people’s preconceptions or expectations, balance/harmony does not have any particular associations with Eastern cultures. Rather, the higher rankings are dominated by Western countries, particularly the Nordic ones, as do the overall happiness rankings.

Regarding whether people prefer to experience balance/harmony, there is a clear preference for a calm life, as chosen by most people in all countries (except Vietnam and Georgia). However, experiences of and preferences for balance/harmony appear to be shaped, at least to an extent, by people’s social and economic situations. To conclude, balance/harmony matters to all people in a relatively universal way and can be considered central to well-being, on a par with other important variables linked to high life evaluations, such as income, absence of health problems, and having someone to count on in times of need.

2022 and Beyond

2021 has been a challenging year for all of us, and unfortunately, 2022 proves to be even more difficult for most people in the world. However, the promising data and results we can see in the World Happiness Report allow us to hope and work for the flourishing of humans and the betterment of societies. If you want to read the full version of the World Happiness Report, you can do so by clicking here. And if you desire to participate in the endeavors of the World Happiness Foundation, we happily invite you to join us and make our world better for you and everyone else in it!

Jeffrey Sachs and Luis Gallardo talk about the State of World Happiness
John Helliwell on the World Happiness Report 2022

Keep Reading on the World Happiness Report 2022 insights. The 10th Anniversary of the World Happiness Report


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