Updated: Sep 14
The first step is to understand all the factors that contribute to your overall life satisfaction, well-being, and happiness.
The 2020 COVID pandemic gave all of us a shared global experience and therefore a shared bar worldwide for looking at ongoing human responses. Collectively, we can divide what the world and our lives were like pre-2020 and what they are like now. Common shifts have happened across cultures, industries, and countries ranging from political shifts to new healthcare protocols. We’re here to examine what these worldwide drastic changes add up to when it comes to our mental health, happiness, and what it means to live a well-balanced life.
Life, Especially Work, Looks Different These Days
One of the biggest results of the global pandemic is the seemingly irreversible “great exodus” from in-person work. COVID protocols necessitated this shift to eliminating in-person work as much as possible to decrease exposure and spread of the virus. With the pandemic under control and the increased availability of the vaccine, people are able to return to their office spaces however, many employees and employers have opted to maintain structures that allow or encourage workers to work from home. By shutting down offices, employers are also saving money on rent and the costs incurred from owning and maintaining office spaces. Employees are able to save time and money by not having to commute and have more flexibility with their schedules and still get the work done. So, in many ways, we should be happier that we have better work-life balances than pre-2020, right?
The Global Happiness Data
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the World Happiness Report. These are “based on a wide variety of data, the most important source has always been the Gallup World Poll, unique in its range and comparability of global annual surveys.” The Gallup World Poll assesses worldwide happiness by surveying thousands of respondents for each country around the globe. To get to a numeric representative of a country’s happiness, Gallup uses what is commonly known as the Cantril Ladder Scale. Each respondent rates their subjective well-being (happiness score) responding to the following:
● Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top.
● The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you.
● On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (ladder-present)
● On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? (ladder-future)
Note: “This map pulls data from the World Happiness Report to uncover the average happiness scores of 146 countries. It shows average scores from 2019 to 2021”
To come to the final numbers, Gallup also adjusts for confidence intervals and includes quantitative data such as life expectancy, GDP per capita, social supports, and more in addition to the qualitative self-assessment number. https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2022/happiness-benevolence-and-trust-during-covid-19-and-beyond/ In 2022, Gallup’s research concluded “Worldwide happiness comes in at an average score of 5.6, which is a slight improvement since last year’s report,” where the worldwide happiness average came in at 5.5.
The largest drop, worldwide, can be seen happening in the uncertainty of late 2019 into 2020, and since then most countries have been steadily returning to pre-pandemic levels. Some rankings have stayed consistent, such as Finland remaining at the top for the past 5 years in a row, despite it sharing in the COVID-related dip with the rest of the world. “Finland is one of five Nordic countries to place in the top 10. Denmark comes in second place, followed by Iceland in third.” This past year, the “U.S. climbed three places in this year’s report and ranked just under Canada with a score of 6.97…” and “...China climbed 12 places on the global ranking, making it the most improved country in East Asia and Oceania. The Chinese government recently identified “common prosperity” as a top priority and has made numerous policy shifts in an effort to combat inequality and eradicate poverty.” Coming in at the lowest regional ranking is Africa with a score of 4.5. Much of the report attributes this to poverty, stating that in 2021 “approximately 6.1 million people were living below the international poverty line.”
As a positive note for Africans, according to the “Happiness, Benevolence, and Trust During COVID 19 and Beyond” chapter of the report, “There was increased sadness in 2020 in every region except South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, followed in 2021 by reductions in sadness in every region except South Asia, which has also seen by far the largest increases in worry over the last ten years. The patterns for worry and sadness thus share many similarities.” While it may have not grown in happiness, sadness did not increase in the region during a time when it did elsewhere. Additionally, The Conversation reports data from Scientific Reports, warning, “We found that in countries which rank the highest in national happiness, people are also more likely to experience poor well-being due to the societal pressure to be happy. Therefore, living in happier countries may be good for many but for some, it can end up feeling like it is too much to live up to, and have the opposite effect.”
While the data comparing various countries’ happiness can be helpful in many ways, it is not the final say on whether or not you can be or are likely to be happy. You have the power, knowing more about what attributes to increasing happiness or decreasing well-being, to tip the scales in your favor. We can study the regions of the world that are successful in either returning to higher levels of happiness or forging new growth in this critical area of a country’s success and vitality so we can continue improving happiness in all regions of the world. Additionally, studying the data collected on smaller and individual levels allows us to see how we can take the responsibility of transforming our happiness into our own hands.
So, what does this mean for global happiness in terms of carving out a better, more well-balanced life for yourself?
A National Library of Medicine article explains “Most researchers use the word happiness carefully to convey its particular meaning: being happy is not just about being cheerful; it is a special feeling that is precious and extremely desirable, but difficult to attain. Much of the research to date has focused on establishing objective methods for analyzing quality of life and well-being, relying on geographical and socioeconomic aspects related to quality of life, well-being and happiness.” Positive Psychology prefers the term “life satisfaction” rather than “happiness” when evaluating overall happiness and well-being. “Life satisfaction is not only more stable and long-lived than happiness, it is also broader in scope. It is our general feeling about our life and how pleased we are with how it’s going. There are many factors that contribute to life satisfaction from a number of domains, including work, romantic relationships, relationships with family and friends, personal development, health and wellness, and others.” Another term used when discussing life satisfaction and happiness is “quality of life.” “Quality of life is another measure of satisfaction or wellbeing, but it is associated with living conditions like the amount and quality of food, the state of one’s health, and the quality of one’s shelter (Veenhoven, 1996).” Overall, your self-assessment of happiness must take into account more than just your current emotion- evaluating a country or even individual’s overall well-being requires assessing a wide range of factors.
Here are some factors to consider:
● Overall average mood
● Work satisfaction, including security and flexibility
● A sense of your life having purpose or meaning
● Economic mobility
● Access to basic needs
● Confidence in safety
● Accessibility to housing
● Community/a sense of belonging and relationship with others
Simply re-evaluating your own happiness using the Cantril Ladder can be a great place to start. You can also use other tools, such as the Happiness Alliances Index or Berkley Well-Being Survey, to self-assess.
Then consider where you rank compared to your country’s average. Assess why you may be falling below your country’s average happiness or rising above it. Are there factors you can change, such as work environment, or are the factors bringing your score down further beyond your control, such as perception of corruption or social supports?
There are plenty of studies drawing conclusions about an individual’s happiness within a given space, such as the workplace, but very few have been able to scientifically look at how spheres interact. Trying to distinguish between causation and correlation when it comes to how workplace satisfaction affects happiness at home is extremely difficult, and therefore studies tend to focus on individual spheres.
For example, much data exists examining what contributes to workplace happiness because it is a crucial metric for business owners to consider. When employees are unhappy, turnover increases, and it costs the business profits (Source). Therefore, it can be an easier sphere of your life to evaluate to see if your work environment is contributing to your overall well-being or making you unhappy. Forbes identifies 10 key ingredients to workplace well-being:
Appreciation for your work
Good relationships with colleagues
Good work-life balance
Good relationships with superiors
Company's financial stability
Learning and career development
Attractive fixed salary
Interesting job content
While many of these factors have stayed the same for decades, the new increase in remote work opportunities is shifting employees' priorities when it comes to job satisfaction too. In May of 2022, HR Drive found “the ability to work remotely is positively correlated with employee happiness. Fully remote workers reported a happiness level roughly 20% higher than those who worked in the office 100% of the time.” The conductors of the survey, Tracking Happiness, surveyed 12,455 global workers for the study. One way to increase your well-being may be to consider which work environment factors matter most to you and pursue jobs that value those as well. For example, people wrongly believe “compensation is the top predictor of happiness, in reality, the social elements of work are far more important. Belonging is the top driver of well-being, while pay falls in the middle of the pack” (Source).
In terms of evaluating your overall life satisfaction, “One of the most popular theories of wellbeing is the PERMA model developed by Martin Seligman, one of the “founding fathers” of positive psychology (Seligman, 2011). His model is based on the idea that there are five main factors that contribute to wellbeing: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments” (Source).
Cognition Today offers a great resource and 27 actionable steps for improving your well-being and mental health.
Investing in improving your own life satisfaction will benefit you more than just becoming happier. Positive Psychology explains, "Not only does greater life satisfaction make us feel happier and simply enjoy life more, it also has a positive impact on our health... Research has found that life satisfaction is strongly correlated with health-related factors like chronic illness, sleep problems, pain, obesity, smoking, anxiety, and physical activity (Strine, Chapman, Balluz, Moriarty, & Mokdad, 2008). The relationship may move in both directions, but it’s clear that life satisfaction and heal hand—increase or enhance one, and the other will likely soon follow.”
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