According to the 2018 World Happiness Report, your country, your town, your neighborhood and your home all have an effect on your overall happiness. It means happiness varies from one person to the next and from one country to another.
The report ranks countries based on the subjective well-being and happiness of its inhabitants. As of March 2018, Finland’s citizens were considered the happiest in the world. Countries with strong economies and quality of life ranked higher while those which have experienced war, natural disasters and hardship ranked lower in the list.
For this particular report, there are six variables that explain differences in human happiness across countries. They are the following:
1. Gross domestic product per capita
2. Social support
3. Healthy life expectancy
4. Social freedom
6. Absence of corruption
Although this research is intended to be used at the public policy level, we can also apply it to our personal path to find happiness. What we can learn from this list is that happiness can be achieved if we find a satisfying job, live in a peaceful place surrounded by social support, have good health, and be generous spiritually and financially.
The report uses the Cantril Ladder to know how happy a person living in a particular place is. Researchers ask the respondents to think of a ladder from 0-10, with 0 as the worst and 10 as the best. They are then asked to rate their own current lives based on the scale.
However, when it comes to personal happiness, researchers have attempted to measure happiness with five approaches:
Researchers are looking for biological markers which include hormones and neurotransmitters to determine the level of happiness. According to a study, neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and endorphin plays a role in the control of happiness.
But it is important to know that the markers for happiness aren’t the same as for depression. For example, if low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin are linked to depression, high levels of the same chemical doesn’t predict happiness. This suggests that happiness and depression are not opposite ends of each other but are related yet independent dimensions.
“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up,” wrote John Holmes
Behavioral scientists use behaviors such as smiling, laughing and helping others to estimate happiness. According to this article, a University of Zurich study found that generous behavior can give you a happier life. In the study, participants were promised varied sums of money that they’d receive in the near future. One group committed to spending the money on themselves, while the other group chose to spend it on others.
The results show that the areas of the brain associated with generosity and happiness interacted more intensely in those who were generous with the money. Moreover, those who went through with the generous act also felt happier afterward.
3) Implicit measures
Implicit measures mean people who were tested did not even know that their happiness is being assessed. For example, this measure has been successfully used to assess racism. It typically assesses reaction times to connect positive and negative terms to oneself and to others.
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4) Other reports
Researchers have found that asking others to rate a person’s happiness is useful and effective. For example, in order to rate a young child’s happiness, behavioral scientists ask parents and teachers to rate the child’s happiness.
Self-reports are the most common way that researchers assess happiness. Multiple-item scales or a single question is used to gauge a person’s level of happiness. Because happiness is subjective, it makes sense to ask people about how happy they are.
6) Happy tweets
A paper published in Plos One by the researchers from the University of Vermont looked at more than 80 million words typed in Tweets. By analyzing the positivity and negativity of words used in a particular location, the researchers were able to find the happiest states. They found that the state with the most chipper Twitter users is Hawaii, followed by Maine, Nevada, Utah, and Vermont. On the other hand, the saddest state was Louisiana, with Mississippi, Maryland, Delaware, and Georgia.
7) Facebook feelings
A happiness research has found that happy posts are contagious. With Facebook adding a feature for users to include an emoticon and feeling to a status, the company’s Data Team was able to investigate how users’ emotions are changing.
On March 17, 2014, the team found that usage of positive words like “wonderful” and “great” rose by about 20 percent in response to daylight saving time. Moreover, text statuses were also more positive that Monday evening because of the extra hour of post-work sunlight.
8) Instagram grins
Over at Instagram, a study was also conducted to measure happiness by city.
A study found that the happiest city in UK is Belfast, based on how many grins get archived on the social photo site. Peter Warden, the co-founder of the UK startup Jetpac, analyzed 100 million photos from Instagram’s public system. The purpose is to help build the company’s recommendation system based on pictures which are linked to a specific location.
Using the system, they found that Belfast is the happiest city and the Parlour Bar is ranked as the ground zero of happy people.
“We’re identifying particular venues (bars, hotels, parks, etc) that we are interested in, and then we query Instagram for public photos at that place over the last year,” explains Warden. “Popular places will have hundreds or thousands of photos, and we’ve looked at over 6 million venues so far, so the numbers add up pretty quickly.”
9) Track it over time
Another way to understand and measure happiness is to track it over time like what the researchers from the University of Virginia did. In a study published, the researchers explored cultural and historical variations in concepts of happiness.
First, they analyzed the definitions of happiness in dictionaries from 30 nations for an in-depth understanding of cultural similarities and differences.
Then they analyzed the definition of happiness in Webster’s dictionaries from 1850 to the present day to understand historical changes in American English better.
Third, they coded the State of the Union addresses given by U.S. presidents from 1790 to 2010 and lastly, they investigated the appearance of the phrases “happy nation” and “happy person” using Google’s Ngram Viewer from 1800 to 2008.
The findings revealed that definitions of happiness change over time. Old definitions focused on good fortune and benevolent external conditions while modern-day American usage conceives happiness as an internal state.
Measuring happiness has allowed researchers to assess this positive emotion.
However, it is neither simple nor easy.