Insights From the First Global Survey of Balance and Harmony

World Happiness Report Harmony

Scholarly understanding of happiness continues to advance with every passing year, with new ideas and insights constantly emerging. Some constructs, like life evaluation, have been established for decades, generating extensive research. Contrary to this, other well-being-related topics are only beginning to receive due recognition and attention, including balance and harmony.

However, 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. The World Happiness Report redresses this lacuna by reporting on a unique data set collected as part of the 2020 Gallup World Poll, constituting the most thorough global approach thus far to these topics. 

The data in the Report shows that experiences of, and preferences for, balance/harmony appear to have universal relevance and appeal. Thus, contrary to some people’s preconceptions or expectations, balance/harmony does not have any particular associations with Eastern cultures. In terms of experiences of balance/harmony, people in Eastern cultures did not generally have higher levels than those in other regions and indeed had relatively low levels overall. Rather, the higher rankings tended to be dominated by Western countries, particularly the Nordic ones, as do the overall happiness rankings.

However, it is important to emphasize that this does not mean Eastern cultures have not excelled in highlighting, promoting, and understanding balance/harmony. As explained in the Report, the East is renowned for traditions that emphasize balance/harmony, like Taoism. Although Eastern cultures did not show particularly high balance/harmony in the report’s results, it is counterfactually conceivable (but not testable) that without their traditions, they might have fared yet more poorly on these outcomes.

Regarding whether people prefer to experience balance/harmony, there was a clear preference for a calm life, as chosen by most people in all countries (except Vietnam and Georgia). The top-ranked nations were mostly in Africa, while Eastern cultures didn’t score too high on this item. In that respect, as per experiences of balance/harmony, there may be an economic dimension to the pattern of responses. Whereas those most likely to experience balance/harmony may be in richer countries, the people who most want to experience it, but crucially may well not do so, tend to be those in poorer places. As such, experiences of and preferences for balance/harmony appear to be shaped, at least to an extent, by people’s social and economic situations. 

The World Poll data for 2020 offer support for two important points that previous research has not been able to address comprehensively: first, balance/harmony ‘matter’ to all people, including being experienced by, preferred by, and seemingly impactful for people, in a relatively universal way. Second, and relatedly, balance and feeling at peace with life could be considered central to well-being, on a par with other key variables linked to high life evaluations, such as income, absence of health problems, and having someone to count on in times of need. This provides a strong case for their continued monitoring and further studying regularly, both in the Gallup World Poll and beyond.

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

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