Today is the UN’s International Day of Happiness. It’s the 5th ever IDoH and a fantastic day to raise awareness of the fact that ‘progress’ should be about increasing human happiness and wellbeing, not just growing the economy.
We at Young Happy Minds have advocated this line of thinking since our inception and we are delighted to see huge shifts in how valued well-being is becoming within modern societies.
Yet we believe there is still a huge way to go if we are to secure a world in which everyone has the potential to flourish as human beings. And this can only come through full commitment by governments and leading authorities to ensure well-being and happiness becomes a paramount concern in future socio-political discourse.
Below are three reasons that we believe if they were widely known, we’d begin to see some of the shifts the UN and countless professionals within the Positive Psychology space are fervently advocating.
1. The old adage “money can’t buy you happiness” is strikingly true.
This is a cliché many are no doubt sick of hearing. While of course there is a necessity for money and an amount needed to meet one’s basic subsistence needs, its power to subsequently make us ‘happy’ is incredibly limited.
Perhaps the most striking academic source out there to demonstrate this is that of Phillip Brickman, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff-Bulman’s 1978 study on recent lottery winners and recent paraplegics and quadriplegics. The three researchers found that on average, a few months after each group’s respective life-changing moment, the recent accident victims reported greater levels of everyday happiness than those met with their new found fortune.
What this demonstrates is that the cultural equation of attaining mass wealth to become happy is one we’ve got desperately wrong. Why then do we continue to assess the ‘health’ of a nation by its economics?
Below are the top 5 countries the ‘World Happiness Report’ have found to be the happiest countries. To each country’s side lies its 2016 global GDP ranking in parentheses.
1. Denmark (39th)
2. Switzerland (19th)
3. Iceland (112th)
4. Norway (30th)
5. Finland (44th)
Where does the UK sit? 23rd in Happiness and 5th in GDP ranking.
Isn’t a population’s well-being surely the most important thing a government should care about?
Without question this comes in part from a healthy economy, yet a greater balance in priorities is perhaps a direction we should begin to head in.
2. The best grades come from the happiest students
Any nation wants to have a well-educated and thus competitive workforce. Yet in the UK this appears to come at a price in how we currently bully our children into attaining academic success.
It’s no surprise that as the proportion of 18 year olds going to university has risen, so too has the rate of teenage depression. Over the past 25 years we’ve seen a 70% increase in teenagers suffering from depression and anxiety. Yes, there has been a growing openness towards seeking help and a gradual change in stigmas surrounding such issues, yet this cannot alone account for such a vast and utterly worrying shift.
And this has been couple with a staggering 200% increase in young people seeking counseling over exam stress over the past few years.
Yet parents and educators often see this pressure and panic as necessary to ‘get the best out of their kids/students’ to ensure they give themselves the best chance of succeeding in an ever-increasingly competitive market.
However, research has show that in fact, it is the happiest students who attain the best grades. Research Schools International, a research body of Harvard Graduate School of Education, has found that students who report greater levels of overall happiness typically have higher grades than their less happy classmates. They have also found a statistically significant correlation between happiness and GPA (grade point average) throughout all levels of the US education system.
It is probably also no surprise that one of the globe’s happiest countries mentioned earlier, Finland, hold no examinations for students until they are 18
The British desire to test, test, and test some more may then actually be one of the reasons that England has been identified as the worst in the developed world for literacy.
Force-feeding our children endless mounds of homework and every night of the week extracurricular obviously isn’t having the desired effect.
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Especially if you’re yanking that horse along.
3. Happy people don’t get sick
The national treasure known as the NHS is without question in a bit of a crisis. Again, the government’s main worries surrounding the ‘health’ of its population are economic.
Yet they continue to not see the signs that the more stressed a person is, the more likely they’ll become sick. And there are also now new signs out there that show that the happier a person is, the less likely they’ll become sick.
One study by Professor Sheldon Cohen in 2006, found that people who are happy and regularly exhibit positive emotions, are less likely to become ill when they are exposed to a cold virus than those who report few of these emotions. Happy people also report fewer symptoms when struck down with a cold than would be expected from objective measure of their illness.
We live in times where our services are strained just as much as we are yet if we come to understand that ‘happiness’, regardless of whether you associate it with ‘fluff', could be a solution to alleviate both our personal strain and societal strain, then we might all become better off.
Today is indeed a day to celebrate the positive and perhaps the more glamorous, smiley side of happiness. But at its core, today is about raising awareness of how the new wave of scientifically studying happiness and well-being can be utilised to instigate innovative interventions aimed at tackling some of our deepest societal issues, which at present, we’re merely poking at using the same redundant methods of thinking.