Jun 23 2012

How do you define happiness?

Happiness can be different things to different people, but what is it really? One definition is that it is a “state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.” Another says that “Happiness is thought of as the good life, freedom from suffering, flourishing, well-being, joy, prosperity, and pleasure.” And “Martin Seligman, one of the leading researchers in positive psychology and author of Authentic Happiness, describes happiness as having three parts: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Pleasure is the “feel good” part of happiness. Engagement refers to living a “good life” of work, family, friends, and hobbies. Meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose.”

There have even been studies ranking the countries in the world in terms of happiness, in each case, according to their own specific criteria of happiness.  In two such studies, Costa Rica tops the rankings.

The most recent study is the 2012 Happy Planet Index. The new economics foundation has just released its third Happy Planet Index (HPI) report which evaluates 151 countries in terms of their sustainable well-being. This study rates countries on three criteria: life expectancy, experienced well-being, and ecological footprint, using the following formula to calculate the HPI scores.

You can watch an introduction to the Happy Planet Index by its creator, Nic Marks, below:

While no one country gets the highest scores for all three criteria, different countries do well on different criterion. For instance, Japan ranks the highest in “life expectancy” with a score of 83.4 years. Denmark ranks the highest in “experienced well-being” with a score of 7.8. And Afghanistan has the lowest “ecological footprint per capita” of 0.5. But once the formula is applied, which calculates all three criteria, Japan ranks 45th of the 151 countries, Afghanistan ranks 109th, and Denmark ranks 110th. The United States ranks 105th.

“For the second time, Costa Rica tops the HPI, again with a substantial lead. The country has embraced sustainability in its national policies: it produces 99 per cent of its energy from renewable sources, has reversed deforestation in the country, and, in 2008, committed itself to becoming carbon neutral by 2021. Costa Rica has the second highest life expectancy in the Americas, higher than the USA’s; experienced well-being higher than many richer nations; and a per capita Ecological Footprint one third the size of the USA’s.” (HPI Report, p. 13)

Here are some of the results from the 2012 Happy Planet Index, including the top 10 ranked countries:

You can read the entire report of the 2012 Happy Planet Index here.

The second happiness study is the World Database of Happiness which ranks how long and how happy people live. It considers 149 countries around the globe, from 2000 to 2012, by calculating Happy Life Years (HLY). In this study, “Happiness is defined as the degree to which an individual judges the overall quality of his life-as-a-whole favorably.” Overall happiness, in this definition, includes the two components of pleasure (our pleasant feelings) and contentment (our personal assessment of having what we want).

Here again, Costa Rica places at the top, with an overall score of 66.7 HLY. Following is their top ten, along with Mexico (#14), Panama (#16), and the United States (#18):

In the end, happiness, I think, is a very personal thing. So what is happiness to me? It’s having the time and money to enjoy life without worrying about having enough of either of them. It is spending time being near my husband – sharing a hug, talking, or just reading in the same room. It’s snuggling with our cats while watching television in the evening. It’s listening to the birds and frogs while sitting on our patio at just about any time of the day. It’s the smell of bread fresh out of the oven and the flavor of a perfectly seasoned pot of homemade chicken soup. It’s taking a nap on a rainy afternoon while the rain drops pound on our tin roof, and it’s the fresh smell in the air after a rainy season downpour. It’s listening to cows lowing and roosters crowing nearby. It’s moving my feet to a Latin rhythm. It’s a sugary bite of watermelon and the sweet crunch of an amazing Costa Rican carrot. Happiness to me is the simple things in life. And that means that I am blessed beyond measure, because these simple things are all around me and call me into happiness…if I am merely aware of them.

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