How to be happier

12 May 2015

The UN has released its 2015 World Happiness Index and SBN member AUT University is behind a new Wellbeing Index, which shows individuals, companies and societies how to be more ‘awesome’. Read on to find out what makes us happier.

Last month, the third UN World Happiness Index was released, ranking countries on happiness levels. The report shows that six key factors add to happiness: social support, trust, people’s generosity, GDP per capita, the perceived freedom to make life decisions and healthy years of life expectancy.  

Social ties were a key theme that emerged in the research. Relationships with family and friends, trust and empathy, and overarching social norms are all key to wellbeing, suggesting that policies should aim to support and enrich the social fabric, utilising the power of empathy, of current and future generations.

The report shows that countries with higher social capital, measured by good levels of trust, social support and governance, are more resilient in times of disaster and economic shocks because of the strengths of their communal links.

Switzerland tops the list, closely followed by Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada. New Zealand ranks 9th overall, mainly due to our GDP, life expectancy and levels of social support.  The bottom countries include war-torn Syria and Afghanistan as well as eight Sub-Sahara African countries.

The report also shows that people who experience happiness, smiling or laughter, enjoyment, feeling safe at night, feeling well-rested and feeling interested are happier than those who worry, are sad, depressed, stressed, in pain or angry.

Happiness is gaining importance as a key measure to help guide our measurements of progress and success of public policies. In September this year, the UN will adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to help set the world on a path to better development strategies. A better understanding of the concepts of wellbeing and happiness will ensure the SDGs will not focus solely on outdated economic measurements of wellbeing, like a country’s GDP. 

AUT University and Sovereign have also just launched their Wellbeing Index, citing the inadequacies of GDP measurements to really discover what is going on at a personal and social level in the country. New Zealand ranks 21st, out of 29 other countries that took part in a similar European-based social survey.

The report classes 25 per cent of New Zealanders as ‘awesome’ individuals who possess optimal wellbeing – people that are doing well, feeling good and display positive characteristics. These individuals also have an inner resilience to bounce back after tough times, possess a sense of optimism about their future and feel positive about themselves.

This compared to top-ranking country Denmark which scored 61 per cent. Twenty one per cent of New Zealanders were ranked ‘nearly awesome’, with older people and those living in Southland more likely to be ‘awesome’.

The Wellbeing Index also highlights the importance of sleeping well, eating well and exercising as well as connecting with others to build positive relationships and living in supportive communities.  Using your strengths and finding meaningful work is another key pathway to an awesome life as well as spending and living within your means and building up wealth and security over time.

The report suggests that organisations can help improve the wellbeing of others by:

  • Using and developing the strengths of employees
  • Supporting each other to be active
  • Encouraging physical activity and healthy eating in the workplace
    Creating community in your workplace and neighbourhood and
  • Working together to support each other.

It also suggests that as a society we can:

  • Reduce unemployment and increase income levels
  • Encourage people to spend and live within their means and build wealth
  • Create cities that support physical activities and reinforce social connections and
  • Create events and spaces where people can meet and help one another.