March 20 is International Happiness Day, which means everyone will be talking about who the happiest people in the world are and where they live. Most will say citizens of Denmark or Switzerland are the happiest because of the famous World Happiness Report that the United Nations releases. Others, perhaps citing Gallup’s new report on global emotions, will conclude that Latin Americans are the happiest people in the world. Who is right?
This answer depends on how you define happiness. If you think happiness is how you see your life or, in survey speak, how you rate your life today on a scale of zero to 10 (with zero being the worst possible life and 10 being the best possible life), then the Danes and Swiss are the happiest people in the world. If you think happiness is how you experience your life through laughing, smiling and enjoyment, then Latin Americans are the happiest.
If the difference is that simple, then why are there two measures in the first place? It’s because the concepts measure two very different aspects of someone’s life: how they see their life and how they live their life. For example, if you take two women in the U.S. – one with a child and one without a child – who rates her life better? Statistically, the woman with a child does. But which woman experiences more stress? Also the woman with the child. So, the woman with the child may see her life as being better than the woman without a child, but the woman with the child also lives with more stress.
The drivers of both elements are also very different. For example, the single biggest driver of life evaluation ratings is money. In fact, the more money you make, the higher you rate your life. But money doesn’t have the same effect on how you live your life. For example, in the U.S., after reaching an annual income of $75,000, money makes almost no difference in how someone lives his or her life. Some of the biggest drivers of how you live your life include social support, generosity and freedom.
If on International Happiness Day you’re wondering who the happiest people in the world are, ask yourself whether you think happiness is how people see their lives or if it’s how people live their lives. If it’s the former, the results are predictable – the wealthiest countries in the world top the list. If you think happiness is not so dependent on money and is based more on how much people report enjoyment, laughing and smiling – then look no further than Gallup’s Global Emotions Report.
This year’s report focuses on how people live their lives. Leaders know that wealth isn’t everything – a great society has people who see their lives well and live their lives well. This report shows the countries in which people are living their lives to the fullest.
The report’s key takeaway? Despite all of the negative things we read, see and hear in the news, the world isn’t doing that badly. More than 70 percent of the world said they smiled or laughed a lot the previous day. Only seven countries had less than a majority of people say the same (including Ukraine, Iraq and Syria). So, while we hear so much about the things that aren’t going well, 70 percent of the world is still finding a way to have fun.