While much of the recent focus on the United Nations has been on the organization’s failure to support the interests of the United States, it’s worth noting that this may not be the U.N.’s most important contribution. As a social scientist, the research and data provided by the U.N. has — in recent years — been far more valuable than their ability to mediate conflict.
For instance, in April of 2012, the United Nations published its first "World Happiness Report." The study was based on surveying a cross section of 3,000 individuals in 150 countries about their sense of well-being, and examined a litany of factors which contribute to, and detract from, overall human happiness.
Given a 65 percent growth in antidepressant use in the U.S. over the past decade, I’ve made a point of reading this study cover-to-cover since its inception, though the report has since been handed off to nonprofit foundations.
For openers, the top 10 happiest countries have remained largely the same for the past several years. Their specific ranking within the ten slightly fluctuates but from a statistical standpoint the variation doesn’t mean much. For the record the happiest countries in the world in 2017 were:
- New Zealand
The United States ranked No. 14, after Israel, Costa Rica, and Austria.
Government leaders would do well to note that, across the board, the top 10 happiest countries demonstrated high scores in six key areas. The first factor comes as no surprise: Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita. Countries with low or negative GDP have high unemployment and limited opportunity which makes happiness more challenging.
There’s no question whether there is a direct relationship between work and fulfillment. The fact is, the ability to work plays such an important role in our sense of well being that previous unemployment has been proven to have a negative impact on later happiness.
On the other hand, economic growth and robustness does not guarantee a greater sense of well being. China, whose GDP has multiplied more than fivefold in the past quarter of a century, ranked No. 70 behind Algeria and Libya in overall happiness. The Chinese people report that they are far less happy today, lending credence to what the head of the U.N. Development Program called "the tyranny of GDP."
It turns out — more than GDP and life expectancy — when it comes to human happiness - four other factors play a more critical role: social support ("someone to count on in times of trouble"), the perceived absence of corruption in government and business, the freedom to make life decisions, and generosity (donations).
But if you’re still convinced economic growth is the key to happiness, consider this: According to the "2017 World Happiness Report" it would take a 16-fold increase in the average per-capita income among the poorest nations in the world to equal the impact simply having "someone to count on in times of trouble" has on happiness. Neither a growth in GDP or improvements in life expectancy come close to the basic human need for family, friends and community.
And China isn’t the only country struggling with an unhappy population. The recent report indicates that happiness in the U.S. is also declining. But not due to income. Or changes in life expectancy. Happiness is deteriorating because of the social factors, "less social support, less sense of personal freedom, lower donations, and more perceived corruption of government and business."
In other words, putting more money in the pockets of Americans, immigration reform, infrastructure investments and exterminating ISIS are not likely to increase the sense of well-being of Americans. So long as citizens feel isolated, distrust their leaders in government and business, and perceive that they have less freedom and generosity in their lives, it’s likely the use of antidepressants, number of suicides, and violence attributable to mental illness will continue to grow.
If there is a golden nugget in the "2017 World Happiness Report" it's this: Whether it’s China, Russia, the U.S. or Romania, economic prosperity alone is not enough to engender well-being. The human organism was designed to be a troupe-dwelling creature, and similar to Bonobo monkeys with whom we share 97 percent of the same DNA, intimacy, camaraderie, and trust are essential to happiness.
To this end, government policy has far less of an impact on happiness than the simple act of helping a neighbor in need, volunteering, repairing broken bonds with family and friends, and regularly exercising our freedom of speech, movement and choice. Make America Great Again is not the same as Make America Happy Again. This is not the work of government. It is the work of private citizens. Now let’s get busy.
Rebecca D. Costa is an American sociobiologist, author, and host of the syndicated radio program "The Costa Report." She is an expert in the field of "fast adaptation." Costa’s first book, "The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse," was an international bestseller. Her follow-on book, titled "On the Verge," was released in 2017. Costa’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, SF Chronicle, The Guardian, etc. For more information, visit www.RebeccaCosta.com. — Click Here Now.
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