Tag Archives: International Day Of Happiness

Celebrating the International Day of Happiness

One of the comments Twitter had a lot yesterday: ‘who decided that the International Day of Happiness would be on Monday’?

While Monday isn’t the least happy day of the week (it’s Wednesday), it may be a surprise that the first day of the new working week is the International Day of Happiness. But that was just the case this year: the day simply falls on 20 March, every year, forever.

It seems that interest in the day has picked up compared to when I wrote about it in 2014 and 2015. Via Twitter, I was flooded with articles and infographics about ways to be happy and happiness at work. That’s a great development, I’d say!

The World Happiness Report 2017

The publication of the World Happiness Report has become another regular fixture on the calendar of happiness enthusiasts (see my take in 2015 here). This year, its release coincided with the International Day of Happiness.

Looking at the results, there were a couple of surprises:

  • Norway narrowly overtook Denmark (1st in 2016 and also in 2014) as the happiest country in the data from 2014-2016. A very important disclaimer: the differences between these two and Iceland (3rd) Switzerland (4th, ranked 1st in 2015) are statistically insignificant. In brief, we don’t really know if Norwegians are really happier than the Swiss.
  • It remains mind-blowing how important equal societies, high trust (measured via perceptions of corruptions), and small populations are. Like last year, the rest of the top-10 is completed by Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden.
  • The section on the United States recognises its decline. This is not a failure in attempts to Make America Great Again – though polarisation is probably part of the problem. Declining social support and a reduced trust are the factors associated with this. Jeffrey Sachs observes that the US ranked 3rd in the OECD in 2007, compared to 19th in 2016. Given the fact that GDP is still growing but happiness is in decline, it is imperative that the US works on its social crisis.
  • Also in China, the data show surprising results. China’s GDP per capita has seen a five-fold increase in 25 years. If money were to buy happiness, the levels of happiness and well-being should increase, especially for the millions of people who escaped poverty and came to form China’s new middle class. Instead, multiple studies reveal that happiness fell a bit in the 2000-2005 period, before increasing again in 2010-2014. In the earlier period, unemployment and a weaker social safety net reduced happiness, and the recovery of happiness levels took a long time. China now ranks 79th, below South Korea and the Philippines, but ahead of Indonesia and Vietnam. It also outranks Greece, where happiness suffered during the long-standing economic crisis, and the cradle of Gross National Happiness (GNH), Bhutan.

 

Mapping happiness

With the exception of pockets of red (unhappy) and orange (less happy) in Africa and part of the Middle East and Asia, overall, the world looks quite green and happy. There is a lot green to see on this map, from North America to Latin America, in Europe, in most of Asia, and in Oceania. Overall, the world is quite a happy place – and mind you, it’s the only planet where the International Day of Happiness is celebrated!

 

Schermafbeelding 2017-03-21 om 09.30.02

How happy are we actually in Europe?

Did you feel particularly good last Friday? Maybe you enjoyed #Eclipse2015 as so many others did. Or you felt great because the world was celebrating the International Day of Happiness!

The International Day of Happiness was instituted by the United Nations in 2012, as I wrote last year. I must say that beyond a flood of tweets, I haven’t seen too many official events this year. The exception however was a very interesting data set from Eurostat that answers how happy we actually are in the EU.

I’ll come with the answers soon. But let me first give an idea on how we actually measure happiness.

How do you measure happiness?

There are practically three ways to measure happiness:

  • “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life these days?” With this question, people are asked about their overall quality of life or life satisfaction. There can be a little bias there – I might answer something different today than I would tomorrow. But the experience of researchers is that these biases cancel each other when the sample is large enough.
  • “How much of the time over the past four weeks have you been happy?” This question instead measures positive affect, or people’s happiness level on an emotional rather than on a more rational level. It’s based on the idea that beyond the overall life satisfaction, the presence of positive emotions and the absence of negative emotions is a good indicator of how a person really lives. 
  • Finally, there is ‘eudaimonia’, ‘eudaimonic happiness‘, or ‘meaning of life‘, which has a less clear-cut question. Eudaimonia broadly refers to the value and purpose of life, important life goals, and for some, spirituality. This requires a bit more reflection before it is answered.

Eurostat’s results show that the three measures are correlated at country level and at individual level, with some exceptions. A high level of positive affect is correlated with high life satisfaction and meaning of life. Still, one out of fourteen is ‘happy all of the time’ but with a low level of life satisfaction!

The good news: how happy are we?

There is a lot of good news in the figures:

  • 16 out of 28 countries have an average above 7.0, and the EU average is 7.1 out of 10
  • The highest level of happiness is found in Denmark, Finland and Sweden, with 8.0. The Netherlands and Austria score an 8.
  • On average, young people (16-24) score highest, at 7.6. The outliers are the Austrians: 8.4!
  • In Finland (8.3) and in my own home country, the Netherlands (8.0), the highest bracket is the age group 25-34. Does that mean that statistically, I will never be as happy as I am now? (The answer is: no. The study explains there can also be a ‘cohort effect’ – a group of people could retain the same happiness level, independent of their age group.
  • And the happiest are… Danish seniors! The absolute highest number is found in Danes in the age of 65-74: 8.6, and 0.7 higher than the 50-64 group in Denmark (7.9). There must be something amazing about retirement in Denmark!
  • There is only a marginal difference between men (7.1) and women (7.0). Also, there are slightly more women in the highest category. And controlling for differences in income, marital status, and labour market position, women are happier.
  • 42.1% of Danes scores above 8, and only 5.6% of Dutch score below 6. This might actually be the most important outcome: when it’s about happiness, it is not only the average but also the distribution that should count. In these two countries, happiness seems to be distributed fairly equally.

The bad news: how unhappy are we?

But there also is a bit of bad news in the figures:

  • Generally, happiness levels tend to decline with age: from 7.6 (16-24) to 6.9 (50-64), before making a little rise to 7.0 (65-74) and a further decline to 6.8 (75+)
  • Bulgarians and Serbians appear to be quite miserable: they score averages of 4.8 and 4.9. In Bulgaria, every age group is below 6.
  • Unemployment buys unhappiness. The difference between full-time employment and unemployment is 1.6 points (7.4 vs 5.8).
  • There is also a strong relation between poverty and unhappiness. Only 7.5% of materially deprived people has a high level of life satisfaction. And deprivation of important needs (ability to pay rent, to keep the home warm, a holiday or a car) has a larger negative effect on happiness than poverty in monetary terms.

The full analysis from Eurostat is available here.

Picture 3

Happy International Day of Happiness to all!

The United Nations has chosen special days to celebrate all small parts of life. There is a World Radio Day (13 February). An International Day of Forests and the Tree (21 March). The UN calendar also marks something called Vesak, or the Day of the Full Moon in Buddhist traditions.

And since 2012, we finally have a UN International Day of Happiness.

The decision to establish an International Day of Happiness has been set out in a formal UN resolution. As the laws of diplomacy-speak require, the text is somewhat swollen (“conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental goal just means: everybody would like to be happy), the text is quite short.

The text recognises the need for “a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication and the well-being of all peoples“. Music to my ears, as I’m convinced that governments have a role to play via well-being policies.

20 March was chosen, because on this day, the sun is on the same plane as the earth’s equator. Day and night are of equal length, creating balance in the earth’s celestial coordinate systems. The idea to have an international day of happiness was raised by Bhutan, which bases its policies on the concept of Gross National Happiness.

Though these days can be criticised (should I only care about women on 8 March), it can be a good way to raise awareness and let people think of their own happiness. In a way, the UN recognition is the culmination of years of work that have been done to convince states and international organisation to take happiness seriously. It builds upon Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, but also on comparable initiatives by France, the UK, the EU and the OECD.

Happiness to the People!

But enough about official celebration. This is a day for the people.

The last months many of our days have been lightened up by the hymn of happiness. Last November, you might have seen the 24 video clip on his website. It is amazing to see how big the song has become since. As I wrote about before, the idea has been taken aboard by people all around the globe, who’ve created their own versions.

Tomorrow, the song will be everywhere. Pharrell teamed up with the UN for another ’24 hours of Happy’, based on videos submitted all around the world.

Watch this page tomorrow to celebrate the International Day of Happiness!

But for now, some of the local versions:

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

I’ve been hoping for a guest appearance of my friend, alas!

Brussels, Belgium

My very own host city has at least ten versions on youtube. This one seems the funniest:

http://youtu.be/ShfqLUutyC4

Vilnius, Lithuania

People in Vilnius aren’t as glum as the word has it!

Tahiti

Tahiti seems the happiest place of all! I need a holiday now…