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Is Happiness A Choice? - Facts & Infographic

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Ask any average man what the ultimate goal of human life is. Odds are nine times out of ten you will hear one word in all the answers Happiness. Ask him to define it and what you are likely to get is an incoherent answer. The Miriam Webster definition of Happiness is 1. Good fortune obsolete, prosperity; 2. Joy, a state of well-being or contentment, a pleasurable or happy experience; 3. Felicity, Aptness.

But before we explore any further definitions let us determine who is best equipped to define Happiness. Is it the subject matter of psychology, philosophy, physiology, economics, theology, or linguistics? Aristotle was among the first great thinkers to have attempted to define happiness. While acknowledging that Happiness is indeed the highest good, Aristotle also holds that happiness is a product of an ethical life or a life well-lived.

Psychologist Dr Martin Seligman defines Happiness thus Both positive feelings and positive activities that have no feelings component at all. The Dalai Lama says Happiness is determined more by the state of one's mind than by one's external conditions, circumstances or events at least once one's basic survival needs are met. Is Happiness then a matter of choice? Or is it happenstance?

World Happiness Report

In April 2012, the Earth Institute, Columbia University, published the World Happiness Report commissioned for the United Nations Conference on Happiness. According to the report the happiest countries of the world were the north European countries such as Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, and Norway and the least happy countries of the world included the Sub-Saharan countries such as Benin, Sierra Leone, and Togo. Surprisingly, the report does not consider economic growth to be a significant factor contributing to a rise in the happiness index. The political instability and civil disturbances of the countries, the report believes, has a major influence in the happiness of the people.
The following are the top twenty countries according to the World Happiness Report

1 Denmark 11 USA
2 Finland 12 Costa Rica
3 Norway 13 Austria
4 Netherlands 14 Israel
5 Canada 15 Belgium
6 Switzerland 16 Luxembourg
7 Sweden 17 UAE
8 New Zealand 18 UK
9 Australia 19 Venezuela
10 Ireland 20 Iceland

The report, however, did rake up a controversy. With USA being ranked eleventh despite its economic success and UK being ranked below Israel, the report drew a lot of criticism across the world. Critics claim that the report does not pay economic success its due credit in happiness whereas employment, an important factor, is irrevocably tied in with economy.

A Happiness Survey

Gallup Inc. and Healthways Inc, research-based companies have been conducting the Gallup-Healthways annual research since 2008 and rank the various cities and states in the US on a well being matrix, also known as the happiness score. This score has been linked to a number of factors including earnings, employment, entertainment, census data, and even the weather. In 2011, the United States as a whole scored 66.2 out of 100, the lowest in the past four years. Here's how the US States rank according to the Gallup Healthways composite rankings

1 Hawaii 26 Arizona
2 North Dakota 27 Texas
3 Minnesota 28 Georgia
4 Alaska 29 New Jersey
5 Utah 30 North Carolina
6 Colorado 31 Pennsylvania
7 Kansas 32 Illinois
8 Nebraska 33 South Carolina
9 New Hampshire 34 New York
10 Montana 35 Rhode Island
11 South Dakota 36 Louisiana
12 Vermont 37 Michigan
13 Maryland 38 Indiana
14 Massachusetts 39 Oklahoma
15 Virginia 40 Nevada
16 Iowa 41 Tennessee
17 Washington 42 Florida
18 California 43 Missouri
19 Connecticut 44 Arkansas
20 Oregon 45 Alabama
21 Wyoming 46 Ohio
22 Wisconsin 47 Delaware
23 Idaho 48 Mississippi
24 New Mexico 49 Kentucky
25 Maine 50 West Virginia

Among the cities of the US the following is the ranking

1. Lancaster, PA
2. Charlottesville, VA
3. Ann Arbor, MI
4. Provo-Orem, UT
5. Boulder, CO
6. Honolulu, HI
7. Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, CA
8. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
9. Fort Collins-Loveland, CO
10. Appleton, WI
11. Barnstable Town, MA
12. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
13. Santa Rosa-Petaluma, CA
14. Durham, NC
15. Prescott, AZ
16. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA
17. Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, ME
18. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI
19. Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA
20. Lincoln, NE
21. Lafayette, LA
22. Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, NC-SC
23. Anchorage, AK
24. Olympia, WA
25. Billings, MT


Gross National Happiness

Gross National Happiness is a term coined by Bhutan King HRH Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972. Having inherited the throne upon his father demise it was up to HRH Jigme Singye Wangchuck to modernize the country and to set a path for development. The king started with Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product. Based on this ideal, the Center for Bhutan Studies developed a survey based on a number of parameters to study the well being index of the people of Bhutan. Karma Ura headed the development of the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index. Bhutan policies and programs have been developed ever since with the general well being of the people in mind. The GNH index of Bhutan has had a great impact world wide. The Happiness Report of the UN Happiness Summit has been modeled after the GNH index. The pursuit of happiness is not a new concept, however. The U.S. Founding Fathers recognized the right to happiness and its pursuit in the Declaration of Independence. J S Mill and other European political philosophers have advocated the greatest good of the greatest number. Chinese and Japanese governments strive towards increasing the harmony and well being of their states. But all these lead us back to the question can happiness be chosen as a matter of political or economic policy. Is happiness ultimately linked to the success of development in other spheres?

The Economics of Happiness

Is GNH affected by a country economic growth and progress? While the influence of economic stability, employment opportunities, and financial enterprise are vital in the overall well being and happiness of the people of any country, we at MapsofWorld tried to check if happiness is an outcome of financial might alone. We studied the GDPs of the top countries named in the World Happiness Report

Country GDP USD (2010)
Denmark 309.9
Finland 238.7
Norway 413
Netherlands 779.4
Canada 1570
Switzerland 527.9
Sweden 459
New Zealand 126.7
Australia 924.8
Ireland 211.39
USA 14590
Costa Rica 35.83
Austria 379
Israel 217.3
Belgium 469.3
Luxembourg 53.33
UAE 297.6
UK 2250
Venezuela 391.8
Iceland 12.57


It seems, from this data, that economic progress has absolutely no baring on the Happiness Index, especially since trillion dollar GDP economies Canada, USA, and UK are ranked lower than smaller economies. This apparent lack of parity came under questioning from several quarters. In April 2012, The Forbes published an article by Tim Worstall, a Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, London. Worstall raises doubts that the authors of the World Happiness Report, Jeff Sachs and Richard Layard themselves may not believe that happiness or well-being of a country may not be a result of economic growth. The problem with this is that their own report shows that the absence of economic growth most definitely makes people unhappy: therefore we should indeed strive for economic growth in order to make people happy, says Worstall. In this sense it may be considered that happiness or well being of societies and nations may be, rather heavily influenced, by external factors including markets and supply and demand, rather than by choice and deliberate action.

A Question Of Psychology

Looking at the psychology of Happiness, we gain yet another perspective. According to WHO reports, depression claims over 850,000 lives worldwide every year. Surprisingly the statistics also reveal that about 15% of the population from high-income countries suffers from depression vis a vis 11% of the population from mid-income countries. Over 121 million people worldwide are affected by depression. Now one common argument that is put forth is that no patient voluntarily chooses depression. The negativity and mood swings that accompany depression are not a matter of choice but are handed by physiology and circumstances. In a country like India, where support systems are pronounced and economic development is opening up it is estimated that over 36% of the people suffer from Major Depressive Disorders.

Most New Age authors and gurus seem to suggest that while the circumstances may be inimical, individual will and choice helps in changing those circumstances. By choice alone an individual takes the first step to achieving happiness. Paulo Coelho, the celebrated author says, The Soul of the World is nourished by people's happiness And, when you want something, the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it

The Happiness Gene

If the control of mood in individuals in genetic, Happiness is certainly not a choice. In May 2011, the UK Telegraph published a medical report which said that scientists have discovered a gene, called 5-HTT. When a child inherits two sets of the gene, one from each parent, the child is twice as likely to manage mood fluctuations and remain happy in life. 5-HTT is the gene responsible for the cellular distribution of serotonin, a mood-control chemical produced by the pineal gland. Furthermore the London School.

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