Facts of the Matter: Happiness

Here’s a great short article with things we already know and some new ideas on happiness


MONEY MIGHT buy happiness: New research found that the richer people are, the happier they are; there were zero unhappy millionaires in the study. Happiness correlates with living with others, renting, and better health, but not with the weather. Urban green space boosts happiness, as does listening to an upbeat song (but only if you know that you’re trying to lift your mood). Slackers are happier at work than their higher-performing colleagues. People are more likely to overeat when they are happy. Happy people sleep better, but only those who are consistently happy. Parents are happier watching TV or doing housework than being with their children. In a study from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, people rated sex and partying as the activities that made them happiest. (Facebook came in second-to-last, ahead of being sick.)

ʼTIS BETTER to give than to receive: People report being happier when they spend money on others than on themselves, and acts of kindness boost moods (but not if you perform the same act too frequently). No matter how much you have, regularly recording what you’re grateful for in a gratitude journal is linked with increased life satisfaction, higher energy, and improved health. Variety may be the spice of life, but people are happier if they have their favorite doughnut every time they go to the bakery, as long as the visits are spaced out.

GENETICS ACCOUNT for 50 percent of happiness, life circumstances for 10 percent, and daily thoughts and actions for 40 percent. In comparisons of brain activity in the right and left prefrontal areas, happy people have a higher ratio of activity in their left prefrontal cortex, while those prone to anxiety and depression have more activity in their right. Neuroscience suggests that we all have a happiness “set point,” or typical mood range. Data show that big life events, such as winning the lottery or being in a major car accident, do not influence this point. But it can be changed by meditating about kindness and compassion for half an hour a day; scientists hypothesize that this strengthens neurons in the left prefrontal cortex.

THE TINY Himalayan nation of Bhutan measures its residents’ happiness based on 124 variables to arrive at the Gross National Happiness Index. In a 2010 survey, 40.9 percent of the country’s people attained “deeply happy” or “extensively happy” status. A British researcher ranked Bhutan, which is one of the poorest countries globally, the eighth happiest in the world. The United States ranked 23rd. France, Great Britain, and Canada also have measures of happiness in their official statistics. In 2011, the United Nations adopted a resolution, introduced by Bhutan, to take steps to make happiness and well-being more important when measuring economic and social development. – Diana Schoberg


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