What Is Happiness?

This is a perennial question that people ask. It is also a perennial pursuit even for kings and queens. Happiness is a complex yet simple thing subject to each individual’s feeling, yearning and effort. The answer lies within you, not without. That means you have to find an answer by yourself. All you need is to start asking, am I happy? If yes, how can I make it last? If not, what can I do? This will help you understand what happiness is all about although by no means it gives you a definitive answer.

The Gallup poll has released some interesting results recently. They are based on a survey conducted in 2011 about happiness by asking 1000 people in each of the 148 countries selected. The survey consisted of five simple questions asking if the respondents were:


*Been treated with respect

*Smiled or laughed a lot

*Learned or did something interesting

*Had the feeling of enjoyment

The following are some interesting results:

Top ten happy countries

Panama (85% said yes)

Paraguay (85%)

El Salvador (84%)

Venezuela (84%)

Trinidad and Tobago (83%)

Thailand (83%)

Guatemala (82%)

Philippines (82%)

Ecuador (81%)

Costa Rica (81%)

Ten least happy countries  

Singapore (46%)

Armenia (49%)

Iraq (50%)

Georgia (52%)

Yemen (52%)

Serbia (52%)

Belarus (53%)

Lithuania (54%)

Madagascar (54%)

The results seem to confirm the following:

First, money can’t buy happiness. The happiest countries are not rich by any standard of material measurement. In fact, all of them are categorized as poor or developing countries. Singapore stands out as the least happy despite being among the most developed in the world. This may be attributed to its small size that encroaches upon the personal spaces of individual citizens. It may also be due to a society obsessed with orderliness, or the stress on its people to maintain a high material standard of living.

Second, wars and crimes bring miseries but do not seem to affect happiness much. Most of the happiest countries, especially El Salvador and Guatemala, suffer from long years of civil war followed by one of the highest homicide rates in the world.

Third, ethnic conflicts really depress the human community spirit as some of the least happy countries show, such as Iraq, Serbia, and Armenia. This also demonstrates the effects of culture on happiness. A society with a deep-rooted harmonious culture tends to make happy citizens.

Fourth, many of the least happy countries came from the former Soviet Union ruled by a failed communist regime. A regime that suppresses personal freedom, opportunity and creativity in the name of order and stability will certainly leave a negative attitude on the human spirit.

Fifth, how does the developed world fare? They rank only in the upper middle. The US ranks 33rd. Germany and France rank 47th, tied with the poor African state of Somaliland. Despite little worries about the basic necessities of life, the rich countries have their own kind of stress and frustration that are mainly material in nature.

We may criticize the method by which the survey was conducted. We may also reject all its findings. Nevertheless, its results are not far from what we normally perceive as true. My conclusion is that happiness is a state of mind independent of material possessions. It is also relatively immune to tough living conditions except intellectual, spiritual, or emotional suppression. For instance, are you happy if you are discouraged to tell or pursue the truth? Are you happy if you are forbidden to believe or worship what you want? Are you happy if you are forbidden to express your feelings, or forced to swallow your anger?

We already know that happiness cannot be bought or transferred. Don’t you know that you can strive to be as happy as you want? All you need is more spirituality, less materialism, and a positive attitude toward life. Remember, it all depends on your own efforts.

January 2013

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