World Happiness Report – Wikipedia

The 2015 World Happiness Report has eight chapters: (1) Setting the Stage, (2) The Geography of World Happiness, (3) How Does Subjective Well-being Vary Around the World by Gender and Age?, (4) How to Make Policy When Happiness is the Goal, (5) Neuroscience of Happiness, (6) Healthy Young Minds Transforming the Mental Health of Children, (7) Human Values, Civil Economy, and Subjective Well-being, and (8) Investing in Social Capital.

Chapter 1, Setting the Stage is written by John F. Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs. This chapter celebrates the success of the happiness movement (“Happiness is increasingly considered a proper means of social progress and public policy.”), citing the OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being, a referendum in the EU requiring member nations to measure happiness, and the success of the World Happiness reports (with readership at about 1.5 million), and the adoption of happiness by the government of the United Arab Emirates, and other areas. It sets an aspiration of the inclusion of subjective well-being into the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (not fulfilled), and outlines the 2015 report. It also address the use of the term Happiness, identifying the cons (narrowness of the term, breath of the term, flakiness), and defining the use of the term for the reasons that the 2011 UN General Assembly Resolution 65/309 Happiness Towards A Holistic Approach to Development[34] and April 2012 UN High Level Meeting: Well-being and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm,[35] Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness[36] philosophy, the term’s “convening and attention attracting power”, and the asset in a “double usage of happiness” as an emotional report and life evaluation.

Chapter 2, The Geography of Happiness is written by John F. Helliwell, Hailing Huang and Shun Wang. This chapter reports the happiness of nations measured by life evaluations. It includes color coded maps and an analysis of six factors the account for the differences: (1) social support in terms of someone to count on in times of need, (2) GDP per capita (income), (3) life expectancy (in terms of healthy years), (4) sense of corruption in government and business (trust), (5) perceived freedom to make life decisions, and (6) generosity. The first three factors were found to have the biggest impact on a population’s happiness. Crisis (natural disasters and economic crisis) the quality of governance, and social support were found to be the key drivers for changes in national happiness levels, with the happiness of nations undergoing a crisis in which people have a strong sense of social support falling less than nations where people do not have a strong sense of social support.

Chapter 3, How Does Subjective Well-being Vary Around the Globe by Gender and Age? is written by Nicole Fortin, John F. Helliwell and Shun Wang. This chapter uses data for 12 experiences: happiness (the emotion), smiling or laughing, enjoyment, feeling safe at night, feeling well rested, and feeling interested, as well as anger, worry, sadness, depression, stress and pain to examine differences by gender and age. Findings reported include that there is not a lot of difference in life evaluations between men and women across nations or within ages in a nation (women have slightly higher life evaluations than men: 0.09 on a ten-point scale). It reports that overall happiness falls into a U shape with age on the x axis and happiness on the y, with the low point being middle age (45-50) for most nations (in some happiness does not go up much in later life, so the shape is more of a downhill slide), and that the U shape holds for feeling well rested in all regions. It finds that men generally feel safer at night than women but, when comparing countries, people in Latin America have the lowest sense of safety at night, while people in East Asia and Western Europe have the highest sense of safety at night. It also finds that as women age their sense of happiness declines and stress increases but worry decreases, as all people age their laughter, enjoyment and finding something of interest also declines, that anger is felt everywhere almost equally by men and women, stress peaks in the Middle Ages, and women experience depression more than men. It finds that where older people are happier, there is a sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and generosity (and income does not factor in as heavily as these three factors).

Chapter 4, How to Make Policy When Happiness is the Goal is written by Richard Layard and Gus O’Donnell. This chapter advocates for a “new form of cost-benefit analysis” for government expenditures in which a “critical level of extra happiness” yielded by a project is established. It contemplates the prioritization of increasing happiness of the happy vs. reducing misery of the miserable, as well as the issues of discount rate (weight) for the happiness of future generations. It includes a technical annex with equations for calculating the maximization for happiness in public expenditure, tax policy, regulations, the distribution of happiness and a discount rate.

Chapter 5, Neuroscience of Happiness is written by Richard J. Dawson and Brianna S. Schuyler. This chapter reports on research in brain science and happiness, identifying four aspects that account for happiness: (1) sustained positive emotion, (2) recovery of negative emotion (resilience), (3) empathy, altruism and pro-social behavior, and (4) mindfulness (mind-wandering/affective sickness). It concludes that the brain’s elasticity indicates that one can change one’s sense of happiness and life satisfaction (separate but overlapping positive consequences) levels by experiencing and practicing mindfulness, kindness, and generosity; and calls for more research on these topics.

Chapter 6, Healthy Young Minds: Transforming the Mental Health of Children is written by Richard Layard and Ann Hagell.[37] This chapter identifies emotional development as of primary importance, (compared to academic and behavioral factors) in a child’s development and determination of whether a child will be a happy and well-functioning adult. It then focuses on the issue of mental illness in children, citing the statistic that while worldwide 10% of the world’s children (approximately 200 million) suffer from diagnosable mental health problems, even in the richest nations, only one quarter of these children of them are in treatment. It identifies the action steps to treating children with mental health problems: local community-lead child well-being programs, training health care professions to identify mental health problems in children, parity of esteem for mental and physical problems and treatment, access to evidence-based mental health treatment for families and children, promotion of well-being in schools with well-being codes that inform the organizational behavior of schools, training teachers to identify mental health in children, teachings of life skills, measuring of children’s well-being by schools, development of free apps available internationally to treat mental illness in teens, and inclusion of mental health with the goal of physical health in the Sustainable Development goals. The chapter lists the benefits of treating children’s mental health: improved educational performance, reduction in youth crimes, improved earnings and employment in adulthood, and better parenting of the next generation.

Chapter 7, Human Values, Civil Economy and Subjective Well-being is written by Leonardo Bechhetti,[38] Luigino Bruni and Stefano Zamagni. This chapter begins with a critique of the field of economics (“Economics today looks like physics before the discovery of electrons”), identifying reductionism in which humans are conceived of as 100% self-interested individuals (economic reductionism), profit maximization is prioritized over all other interests (corporate reductionism), and societal values are narrowly identified with GDP and ignore environmental, cultural, spiritual and relational aspects (value reductionism). The chapter them focuses on a theoretical approach termed “Civil Economy paradigm”, and research about it demonstrating that going beyond reductionism leads to greater socialization for people and communities, and a rise in priority of the values of reciprocity, friendship, trustworthiness, and benevolence. It makes the argument that positive social relationships (trust, benevolence, shared social identities) yield happiness and positive economic outcomes. It ends with recommendations for move from the dominant model of elite-competitive democracy to a participatory/deliberative model of democracy with bottom-up political and economic participation and incentives for non-selfish actions (altruistic people) and corporations with wider goals than pure profit (ethical and environmentally responsible corporations).

Chapter 8, Investing in Social Capital is written by Jeffrey Sachs. This chapter focuses on “pro-sociality” (“individuals making decisions for the common good that may conflict with short-run egoistic incentives”). It identifies pro-social behaviors: honesty, benevolence, cooperation and trustworthiness. It recommends investment in social capital through education, moral instruction, professional codes of conduct, public censure and condemnation of violators of public trust, and public policies to narrow income inequalities for countries where there is generalized distrust of government and business, pervasive corruption and lawless behavior (such as tax evasion).