Want to be happy, move to Norway

As an American, it comes as no surprise to me that American happiness is on the decline. The 2017 World Happiness Report offers numbers that shouldn't be ignored. Despite an increasing per capita GDP, American happiness is falling. But Nordic countries continue to hold the top spots year after year. What lessons can we learn from the World Happiness Report and the happiest countries?

Historically, the Nordic countries have placed in the top ten of happiest countries in the world. These include Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, and Finland. In 2017, Norway swapped spots with Denmark (land of hygge). But there was no statistical difference between these two countries, Iceland, and Switzerland.

What do these four countries have in common? The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), who publishes the report, lists 6 factors that contribute the greatest to happiness. These are:

  • GDP per capita

  • Healthy years of life expectancy

  • Social support (as measured by having someone you can turn to in times of need)

  • Trust (perceived absence of corruption in government and business)

  • Perceived freedom to make life decisions

  • Generosity (as measured by donations made in the last 30 days)

The top four countries all rank high on each of these factors. The last four factors listed are all considered social foundations. Social foundations have a greater effect of happiness than GDP and healthy years of life expectancy combined.

So why is American happiness on the decline? According to the report, Americans feel less freedom, have less social support, donate less, and perceive more corruption in government and business.

And not a single one of those factors are being addressed in the development of our policies and programs. Instead, Americans seem to have the misguided impression that increasing economic growth will make us happier.

"America's crisis is, in short, a social crisis, not an economic crisis." ~World Happiness Report 2017

According to the report, the U.S. is .73 points lower than Nordic countries on the life satisfaction scale. Yet, America has a higher GDP per capita.

To offset the decline in social support, we would have to increase the GDP from $53,000 to $82,000. To offset the decline in all four social foundations, the GDP would need to rise to $133,000.

‘In sum, the United States offers a vivid portrait of a country that is looking for happiness “in all the wrong places."' ~ World Happiness Report 2017

Focusing on fixing an American problem may feel overwhelming and pointless. If like me you are an American, you can vote in ways that reflect support for our social foundations. But more importantly, you can focus on increasing your own happiness.

Over the next several weeks, this site will look at how researchers define and quantify happiness. Future posts will explore how you turn scientific findings into practical application. From fostering social support to understanding the role gratitude plays in life satisfaction. Even the role gender plays on happiness.