Ever heard of the World Happiness Report? This is an annual publication by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network which contains the rankings of national happiness, basically ranking countries in terms of how "happy" they are. The first report was published in 2012 and the objective was to outline the state of world happiness, causes of happiness and misery and policy implications.
The 2018 report found the following: Finland is the happiest country in the world, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland. All of the top rated countries tend to have high scores for the six variables which is found to support well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.
Looking at South Africa, we rate relatively low on the index and it does not take a rocket scientist to understand why... Out of the 156 countries we rank 105th. The bad news doesn't stop there. In another study which focusses on pessimism, South Africa has recently overtaken Brazil, Philippines, Peru and India to claim the top spot as the most pessimistic nation in the world (surveyed).
You might look at these studies and ask but why does happiness matter? In short, I believe it matters because our life expectancy has increased significantly over the past two centuries and if we are unable to improve our happiness we could be facing a miserable future.
Consider the graph above, in the early 1800's the average life expectancy was in the region of 40 years. Happiness levels were basically irrelevant because you did not life long enough to be seriously happy or unhappy. Your life-cycle could be summarised as follow:
You were born, reached adolescence (which if you did you were considered lucky), got married and started a family (as early as possible). Maybe went off to fight in a war or two. Returned home and worked on a self sustaining farm (lucky if you owned it but chances are you didn't) and then passed away around 40 years of age due to an illness, disease or exhaustion. It reminds me of a film released in 2014; A Million Ways to Die in the West, life in the old days were hard and happiness was hard to find.
You might expect that as countries or economies become modernised and more civilised that we are able to increase our happiness over time? Research on this looked at the relationship between income and and happiness and found that as income per person rises (for the United States), happiness does not. In our pursuit of growth, we tend to neglect dimensions of happiness such as, our physical health, the mental health in our community, the social support, the honesty in government, etc.
Aristotle said that if your only aim is wealth or the single-minded pursuit of greater income/ wealth, there is no way to happiness. He recommends that after some point of income, we must start working on other things such as our physical health, mental health, friendships, etc.
I believe that in the end it comes down to ensuring that you have a balance, on the one hand looking after your finances and wealth creation and on the other managing your happiness. We are all familiar with the saying that wealth does not buy you happiness but then Mark Twain said that: “Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination.”