In Search of Happiness

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Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.  Marcel Proust

Researchers are taking a closer look at what makes people happy.  Over the past two decades, dozens of researchers throughout the world have asked a representative sample of several hundred thousand people to report on their happiness and satisfaction levels.

Founded in 1948, the World Values Survey at the University of Michigan s Institute for Social Research is one of the worlds oldest academic survey research organizations. During the past 26 years, their surveys have asked more than 350,000 people how happy they are based on the same two questions.

Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, rather happy, not very happy, not at all happy? And, All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?

Where do we rank? According to the 2007 surveys, a ranking of 97 nations containing 90 percent of the worlds population, Denmark is the happiest nation in the world, while the United States ranks 16th on the list. The new finding shows that during the past 25 years, happiness has risen substantially in most countries.  Economic growth, rising democratization and rising social tolerance have all contributed to rising happiness, according to the survey. The results clearly show that the happiest societies are those that allow people the freedom to choose how to live their lives, said University of Michigan political scientist Ronald Inglehart, who directs the World Values Surveys.

Other current studies examine the results of life circumstances on the level of happiness. New research by Anke Plagnol, of the University of Cambridge, and University of Southern California economist Richard Esterlin, reveals that the sexes are not equal when it comes to happiness. Less able to achieve their life goals, women end up unhappier than men later in life- even though they start out happier, the researchers concluded.

Plagnol and Esterlins work is the first to use nationally representative data covering several decades to examine the role of unfulfilled desires in a persons sense of well-being. The study concluded that happiness in humans is directly associated with the strength of family life and personal finances.

An analysis of 30 follow-up studies on happiness published in the Journal of Happiness Studies indicates that happiness does not heal, but happiness protects against falling ill. As a result, happy people live longer. Chronic unhappiness appears to cause stress, which in turn weakens the immune system.

There are five simple statements that encourage reflection: Rate the level to which the statement applies to you on a scale of 1 (low) to 7 (high):

  • In most ways my life is close to ideal.
  • The conditions of my life are excellent.
  • I am satisfied with my life.
  • So far, I have gotten the important things I want in life.
  • If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.

A total of 26-35 points means that you are very or extremely satisfied with your life; 15-21 points indicates that your are slightly dissatisfied to slightly satisfied, and a rating of between 5-14 points means that you are extremely dissatisfied or dissatisfied with your life.

No matter how you score on this quick self-check, it is never too late to identify and pursue what brings you happiness.

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