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Where Does the US Stand in the World Happiness Report?

Happiness in the COVID-19 Environment

I have previously blogged about happiness polls to see how the US ranks. I looked at how the U.S. ranks (2019) and how people can lead happier lives. I thought it would be in the top 10 countries. After all, we have in general elements of happiness including economic wellbeing, good education, and the availability of quality medical services.

The World Happiness Report 2021 focuses on the effects of COVID-19 and how people all over the world have fared. The survey seeks to identify the effects of the pandemic on the structure and quality of people’s lives, and second to describe and evaluate how governments all over the world have dealt with the pandemic. Most important, the poll tries to explain why some countries have done so much better than others.

Launched in 2012, the World Happiness Report is an annual survey conducted by the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The survey ranks global happiness in countries around the world. Typically, the statisticians base the ranking on data from the Gallup World Poll. But this year was a bit different. Since the researchers were unable to do face-to-face interviews in a number of countries, they focused on the relationship between well-being and COVID-19 in order to rank the countries.

“Surprisingly there was not, on average, a decline in well-being when measured by people’s own evaluation of their lives,” said University of British Columbia professor John Helliwell, one of the people behind the report. “One possible explanation is that people see COVID as a common, outside threat affecting everybody and that this has generated a greater sense of solidarity and fellow-feeling.”

I was surprised to find out that the U.S. was behind most European countries, Scandinavian countries, and the region known as the Oceania continent (Australia and New Zealand).

Here are the survey results.

  1. Finland
  2. Iceland
  3. Denmark
  4. Switzerland
  5. Netherlands
  6. Sweden
  7. Germany
  8. Norway
  9. New Zealand
  10. Austria
  11. Israel
  12. Australia
  13. Ireland
  14. United States
  15. Canada
  16. Czech Republic
  17. Belgium
  18. United Kingdom
  19. Taiwan France

It’s worth noting that citizens in Scandinavian and European countries rank the highest. There are many reasons for these results, although I believe the main factor is the socialist style of government where citizens receive lots of services from the government, which enhances their wellbeing. It has become an integral part of the culture in these countries.

I recently read about the Ten Keys to Happier Living published by the Action for Happiness team. In case you’re not familiar with the organization, Action for Happiness is dedicated to making people’s lives happier through writings on the subject, educational courses, action by schools and networking. Its vision is “a happier world, with fewer people suffering with mental health problems and more people feeling good, functioning well and helping others.” The dedication to improve the lives of those suffering mental health problems is very important given the effects of COVID-19, the recent uptick in gun violence in the U.S., overdosing on opioids, cyberbullying. and increased attempts at suicide.

I write about happiness and meaning in my bookBeyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior. I discuss many examples of real-life situations we encounter in our personal relationships, workplace interactions, and social media activities. These are important issues to address from an ethical perspective if we are to build a kinder, gentler society, and one where we learn to be civil toward each other.

Here are the ten key actions to have a happier life and examples of carrying out those actions. Beyond_happiness_and_meaning-1-200x309

  1. Do things for others. The Golden Rule is to treat others the way you wish they would treat you. It is the essence of reciprocity in relationships. Caring and kindness are important values to make it happen.
  2. Connect with people. Relationships trigger happiness whether with family, friends or other loved ones. Close relationships can bring greater meaning to our lives.
  3. Take care of your body. We can enhance our well-being through healthful habits, exercise, and good mental health.
  4. Live life mindfully. Getting in tune with your feelings and living each day to the fullest.
  5. Keep learning new things. We need to grow as individuals, experience new activities to gain accomplishments, and reflect on our actions. How can we better our lives and the lives of those around us?
  6. Have goals to look forward to. We should choose a direction in life that brings meaning and satisfies our purpose in life.
  7. Find ways to bounce back. Each of use experiences disappointment and pain in our lives from time to time. Get off the floor, learn from your mistakes, and vow to do better.
  8. Look for what’s good. Positive emotions – like joy, gratitude, and self-esteem brings happiness and puts us on the path to self-actualization.
  9. Be comfortable with who you are. Accept your mistakes; be kinder towards yourself. Accepting yourself for who you are enhances your ability to accept others.
  10. Be part of something bigger. People who have meaning and purpose in life lead more fulfilling lives. They also experience less anxiety, stress and have a qualitatively better life.

My suggestions to enhance individual happiness are as follows:

  • Practice being kind to others and others will be kind in return. This can be done by engaging in random acts of kindness and paying it forward.
  • Think about how your actions might affect others before making decisions that may cause unhappiness for the individual and/or those directly affected by the decisions.
  • Avoid the “ethical slippery slope” where telling one lie leads to another and the inevitable coverup of bad behavior.
  • Volunteer in your community by helping others to achieve a greater level of well-being, which will lead to them holding you in high regard.
  • Seek out a meaningful work experience by working for a purpose-driven organization with values similar to yours.
  • Follow The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you wish they would treat you.

It's also worth noting what Jeff Haden says about happiness. He cites a 2005 study published in Psychological Bulletin that suggests the success of happy people rests on two main factors. First, because happy people experience frequent positive moods, they have a greater likelihood of working actively towards new goals while experiencing those moods. Second, happy people are in possession of past skills and resources, which may they have built over time during previous pleasant moods. He concludes by saying, "Happiness is much more likely to drive success" rather than the other way around.

As I explain in my book, happiness is achieved by knowing what the right thing to do is and how to do it. The latter is often easier said than done. Happiness goes hand-in-hand with adding meaning to your life and, together, the provide a roadmap to achieve self-actualization. Happiness and meaning are integral parts of emotional intelligence and interact with wellness on an interpersonal level. The end result can be to raise your self-esteem.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on November 2, 2021. You can sign up for Steve's newsletter and learn more about his activities at: Follow him on Facebook at: and on Twitter at: