by Ingrid Bremer, UD/MH Associate
To coincide with World Happiness Day this week, the latest World Happiness Report has just been published. The Report surveys people in 156 countries to better understand the national and regional distribution of 'happiness' and identify global 'happiness inequalities'. Of course 'happiness' is a complex term - the report defines it as an evaluation of self-reported quality of life satisfaction. Six key variables were used to help explain international variation in happiness: GDP per capita, social support, healthy years of life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and freedom from corruption.
Countries found to have the highest ranking of happiness (2013 – 2015) included Denmark (1), Switzerland (2), Iceland (3), Norway (4) and Finland (5). The countries with the lowest rankings of happiness were Benin (153), Afghanistan (154), Togo (155), Syria (156) and Burundi (157). Full results here.
While the World Happiness Report does not measure mental health per se, the Report has some interesting findings. Social support, income and healthy years of life expectancy were found to be the largest contributors to the differences in happiness between the top 10 and bottom 10 countries. In particular, the underlying social fabric of a society, including quality of social capital, was found to be integral to resilience in the face of a crisis, such as an economic crisis or natural disaster; indeed, in the event of such a crisis, the Report suggests that where there is good social support, people’s happiness may actually increase as a function of being able to work together with others towards a common good.
The rise in scientific and policy interest in sustainable happiness is evident. Countries such as Bhutan, Ecuador, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela have even designated ministers to coordinate their national efforts, and the concept of achieving ‘happy’ populations is increasingly a focus of citymakers around the world. By underlining the importance of good social support in achieving population-level happiness, this Report shows the potential for urban designers to play an active role in helping improve happiness in communities through pro-social design that enables opportunities for positive social interactions among local communities. This #WorldHappinessDay that's worth thinking about.
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