Time and time again, we find that people systematically overestimate the impact of material things and underestimate the positive impacts of social connections.
–John Helliwell, a University of British Columbia economist who was asked to help the United Nations measure and improve global happiness levels.
The following are summaries of 6 main points Helliwell listed as important discoveries in happiness research:
1. More Money Doesn’t Make You Happier
Studies found that income does support life satisfaction, but mostly at low income levels, and not as much as people expect. Positive social interactions have a much greater impact on well-being.
2. The Importance of Trust
When trust is high, people have the confidence to reach out, whether in the workplace or in the community.
3. A Sense of Belonging
Studies show that feelings of belonging at the local community level have twice the impact of those at the national or provincial. As for social media, a Canadian survey found that it is the size of your network of real-time friends, and not the online version, that supports life satisfaction.
4. The Importance of Generosity
Donors and volunteers to charities have been found to receive greater personal satisfaction from their philanthropy than recipients. In a recent study, cancer patients who counseled their peers received even larger benefits than those they were counseling.
5. Perceived Freedom to Make One’s Own Life Choices
While good health is important, the perceived freedom to make important life choices is also crucial. For example, Denmark, which has the world’s highest self-assessed levels of freedom, also has the highest life satisfaction levels.
6. The Importance of Reaching Outside Your Comfort Zone & Establishing Good Relations
Small towns tend to outperform the big cities on happiness because it is easier to get to know neighbors, build trust and create a sense of belonging. “When people ask where to start, I say transform your elevator ride from a prison sentence to a social event,” he says. “Chat with neighbours and help carry their groceries. It’s easier to reach outside your comfort zone when you realize that you and the whole community are likely to benefit.”
–The above points are taken from the article “Six Things Science Tells Us about Happiness” by Basil Waugh, University of British Columbia.
Image: "3D Social Networking" by Chris Potter.