Columbia University’s Earth Institute released the first World Happiness Report, a survey of the state of happiness in the world today, including some science of happiness. The 100+ page report, commissioned by the United Nations Conference on Happiness, has musings on world happiness. (Click here for the whole report).

A severely abridged version of the report on Fast Company asserted that you will be happier if you are wealthy, married, and employed. That’s an over-simplification at best and perhaps misleading. Much of the research on happiness and “subjective well being” suggests that once you are above the poverty line, increases in income don’t equate to a whole lot more happiness.

I was a bit surprised, and somewhat disappointed, that the well-documented report has no mention of the work of Martin Seligman (author of Flourish and a key figure in positive psychology). Seligman showed the factors that are most associated with happiness and well-being:

P – Positive Emotions – experiencing joy and pleasure.

E – Engagement (or flow) – being consciously involved in our activities.

R – Relationships – having enjoyable and supportive interactions with others.

M – Meaning – creating a purposeful narrative about our lives.

A – Accomplishments – completing our goals and following our core values.

So a happy marriage and meaningful work are predictors of happiness; money is less important.

One of the most interesting pieces of the report for me was as follows:
We increasingly understand that we need a very different model of humanity, one in which we are a complicated interplay of emotions and rational thought, unconscious and conscious decision-making, “fast” and “slow” thinking. Many of our decisions are led by emotions and instincts, and only later rationalized by conscious thought. Our decisions are easily “primed” by associations, imagery, social context, and advertising. We are inconsistent or “irrational” in sequential choices, failing to meet basic standards of rational consistency. And we are largely unaware of our own mental apparatus, so we easily fall into traps and mistakes. Addicts do not anticipate their future pain; we spend now and suffer the consequences of bankruptcy later; we break our diets now because we aren’t thinking clearly about the consequences.

This fits well with some of the goodies I’ve written about previously such as the change work, Switch, by the Heath brothers and Carl Honoré’s In Praise of Slow.

I was also intrigued by the inclusion of Sustainable Development Goals: end extreme poverty, environmental sustainability, social inclusion, and good governance. These seem important for our collective happiness.

Among the more “external” factors, key determinants of happiness include: income, work, community & governance, and values & religion. Among the more “personal” features, key determinants include: mental health, physical health, family experience, education, and gender & age.

My next step is toward increasing positive emotions, I’m going to try this: Don’t Worry, Be Happy.

(I’m also experiencing joy and pleasure today by celebrating: Happy 11th Birthday Andrew!)

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