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Money ≠ happiness

Source: HuffingtonPost Canada

Follow-up to my previous piece on the “Happiness Briefing” at the United Nations that was on March 19th, 2015.

On April 23, the third edition of the World Happiness Report came out, reporting on the state of global happiness from a holistic perspective. The surveys are done through the Gallup International poll.

What first started as a project to survey which nation is the happiest has progressed into using these surveys as a means to figure how societies can emulate the process in which overall happiness is found.

Jeff Sachs, one of the authors of the report, says his main purpose in publishing these reports is to show that “true happiness depends on social capital, not just financial capital”.

I attended the launch for the Report last week at the New York Society Ethical Building, where a group of professional panelists talked about the report and shared how they think happiness can be improved around the world.

Here’s the overall consensus of the report, in less than 140 characters.

There were some great questions raised in the discussion, which I’ll share below:

But I’d like to start off first by pointing out that having spent a good portion of my life outside of the US, I’m used to a great deal of America bashing. However, I was surprised at the general resentment towards the US, while in the US, at this launch. But ultimately all were justifiable observations.

The US is currently ranked 15 in overall happiness, and out of 158 countries that seems pretty great. I guess us Americans are happy people. However, the panelists and audience provided great insight as to why and where the US needs to step up their game.

Let’s start with who seems to be Sachs’ favorite philosopher, Aristotle (he’s mentioned in my previous piece as well).

“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god."

The main takeaway from this quote is essentially that we are social animals who are meant to interact with one another. Yet, we find ways to do the exact opposite. We social animals also need to trust one another; as it’s social cohesion that is proving to be a precursor to happiness. The panel’s overall consensus was that the US is actually moving backwards. Not just too long ago, in the Report’s first edition, the US ranked 11. That says something-what is the US doing or not doing? It seems that as GDP is rising, happiness is falling.

Now, let’s take a look at the top countries. Switzerland ranked first followed by Iceland and Denmark. It turns out that these countries actually have a lot of social cohesion which is reflected, culturally and in the way that their policies are implemented. I can think of one of the greatest examples in which this is evident–health care! There’s a much greater social insurance in these countries that the US lacks; the US has traditionally left the poor to fend for themselves. While the US is concerned with its capitalist ideals, these other countries are concerned with what is called the “social democratic” ethos, whereby society should look after each other, and especially the least well-off.

In regards to cultural differences: in the American corporate culture, money is the goal. This makes sense as the more money the higher the success. Sachs made a great point- we have endless headlines about whether GDP is improving or not, and few headlines on whether social trust is improving or not in the US.

Now, this does not necessarily mean that GDP isn’t important. We need the economy to make everything work–health, education and all that jazz. No, the main takeaway is that we need to have the mindset of social trust at the forefronts of our policy making. The US might need to emulate Switzerland's process in which they balance GDP and social trust. Balance is the key word.

I leave you, awesome global citizens that you are, with some advice from an audience member: “generosity makes you happy”, so let’s heed this advice!