Pssst… Do You Know The Secret To Happiness?

How are you today? Really.  Are you happy?

If you’re like many of us, you could use a big dose of happiness!

Ex-Pat Living: What's the Secret to Happiness in Colombia?

Happiest Places… #3 – Colombia: What’s the Secret?

After the events of this past week, I know I certainly can!

And right on cue, this interesting article caught my eye: World’s Top 10 Happiest Countries  by Kathleen Rellihan.

Where are the happiest people? Hint: According to Gallup and the Travel Channel, mostly in Latin America. See the world’s most blissful places, according to the leading global happiness measurement the Happy Planet Index.

One reader observed [Comment]: “I find it interesting that almost all of these countries are predominately Catholic. And that material wealth has very little to do with the level of happiness.” Ok, so it’s not money, but maybe faith? Interesting personal observation. What else have we learned about the secret to happiness?

Residents of Panama, which ranks 90th in the world with respect to GDP per capita, are among the most likely to report positive emotions. Residents of Singapore, which ranks fifth in the world in terms of GDP per capita, are the least likely to report positive emotions.”

Though there is some difference between the exact number order on the Travel Channel’s list and the UN World Happiness Report’s order, the general outcome is similar- the countries you might expect are there but some you might never have guessed are at, or near, the top as well.

UN World Happiness Report 2013: World Happiness map

UN World Happiness Report 2013: World Happiness map

Denmark, for example, has long been in the enviable positions of Most Transparent, Most Happy country in the world. In fact, much of Scandinavia ranks highly in both regards. According to blog, (September 10, 2013)

“Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands are the happiest countries in the world, according to the U.N.-sponsored “World Happiness Report” released Monday by Columbia University’s Earth Institute. The report infers happiness using a number of social and economic metrics, measured using data from 2010 to 2012. “The very least happy countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa, are Togo, Benin, Central African Republic, Burundi and Rwanda. Syria also falls within the bottom 10. The United States ranks 17th of the 156 ranked countries, behind Mexico (16) and Panama (15).” Hmmmm….

That was an eye opener to me- that the US ranks behind Mexico. With the amount of negative press from Mexico focused on drug cartel activities and tourist kidnappings, I would have thought that would lower the quality of life and cause it to rank much lower on the happiness scale.  Apparently not.

What do all of these place have that the others at the bottom don’t?

Happiness is... Different things to different people

Happiness is…

That seems to be the jackpot question.

While it’s hard to pinpoint what the secret to happiness is, we’re pretty clear that it is not simply a matter of more money, a high country wealth index, improved living conditions/overall standard of living, or weather.  The top countries don’t seem to share these qualities.

“The U.N.’s World Happiness Report complements research from other outlets in the relatively new and somewhat controversial field of “happiness economics.” Yet, while the field is rife with studies in recent years, how to best put metrics to the intangible idea is a matter that remains up for debate.”

“Researchers at the Paris-based organization [OECD] look at 11 areas each year that have been identified as essential to happiness and well-being, from health and education to local government, personal security and overall satisfaction with life, as well as more traditional measures like income.

“While both the [UN] World Happiness Report and [the OECD] Better Life Index contain almost exclusively wealthy nations in the top slots, a Gallup poll last December measuring positive emotions across 148 countries claimed Latin Americans were the happiest in the world, with eight of the top 10 countries lying in Central or South America. Like the U.N. report, Gallup went straight to the source, asking 1,000 people in each of the nations surveyed five questions about whether they experienced a lot of enjoyment the day before, and if they felt respected, well-rested, laughed and smiled a lot, and did or learned something interesting.”

“These data may surprise analysts and leaders who solely focus on traditional economic indicators,” Gallup researcher Jon Clifton noted.

Chart: UN World Happiness Report 2013

Chart: UN World Happiness Report 2013

What I notice about each of the most happy regions is the combination of factors- it isn’t about just one thing. It isn’t about having more of any one thing either.  It seems the common denominators center around hope or faith, family, and facility (personal choice).

The places described as being most happy are those in which the people have some degree of hope or faith that tomorrow holds something better than today, or, that there is a reason for the events as they are. Whether it’s religion that provides hope, or the government that allows people to feel optimistic, isn’t clear, but it also doesn’t seem to matter in the end.

Second, the top regions all seem to be family oriented and have an extended family tradition. (That isn’t to say that Sub-Saharan Africa is not a family oriented region; quite the contrary. However, in areas of drought, famine, war and strife, despite best efforts and intentions, families can become divided by relocation, migration, and/or refugee efforts.)

Third is facility, a term that denotes a degree of control, the ability to make independent decisions. In each of the higher ranking regions, there is a degree of self-determination or choice for both men and women that seems to be a factor in whether people experience joy, contentment and real happiness on a day-to-day basis.

For me, personally, the lesson I learned when I went to Baku, was that I felt more free and more fulfilled than at anytime in my life. Life was often harder and more frustrating, but I was doing work that satisfied me.

At the beginning, I did have a sense of family. I had facility over my life, and I definitely had faith or hope that what I was doing would make life better for the young people I was working with. Later as I became more independent of the local families I had been close to initially, I experienced a good deal of loneliness. I was longing for ex-pat friends and a sense of connection again.

Ex-pat Living: Happiness with those who care- Guatemala 10th happiest place

Happiness with those who care

When I repatriated to the US, I once again had less control over my circumstances, and even though I had plenty of money saved up for my transition, the uncertainty over the future meant I couldn’t relax and enjoy what I had worked for. I didn’t have any family, no friends nearby, and my work was not at all satisfying in the way it had been. In fact, I often felt like a cog in the Washington DC bureaucracy, not being used to my fullest potential. I had lost the sense of being respected for my accomplishments, and felt under-utilized.

Feeling unfulfilled seems to be a major hindrance to being happy.

Having experienced both sides of the coin, I would say for me, happiness is being in the sweet spot of sharing with others who understand me, and having the ability to change my circumstances as I choose, whether it means more or less money, better or worse weather, or, having to be more or less cautious about security.

The ability to choose my path and have others who care that it is good for me is my secret for happiness today.

Well, now that you know my secret for happiness, how about tell me about yours. Have you figured out what works for you?

I’d love to hear your story, and if you’d like to, use the comment section below to share your tips and secrets for finding what makes you really happy. I know others would be interested in learning more about what works too!

    Information Resource Credits: online blog/worldviews:  “A fascinating map of the world’s happiest and least happy countries”

    Travel Channel: The World’s top 10 Happiest Places

    Gallup Research:

    International Business Times:

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