RD Global Poll: What Makes Us Happiest?
Reader's Digest asked its readers worldwide to rank how these four key aspects impact their personal happiness: Community, Faith, Family, and Work. Over 6,000 of them responded; here's what they said.
Regardless of gender, age, marital status, and country*, by far, family made the most impact on happiness. Overall, 71% of poll respondents ranked it at the top, with above-average response in Hungary (83%), the Czech Republic (80%), Slovenia (79%), and Finland (78%). At-average or lower were Germany (71%), Russia and Brazil (each 69%), the United States (63%), and Poland and Romania (each 61%). George Vaillant, a former director of Harvard University’s Grant Study measuring what allows people to flourish, says blood connections are irrelevant as long as you treat your “family” as such. “It isn’t that relatives are so important,” he explains, “it’s the ability to both make connections and to take the connections in.”
*Surveys were conducted in Brazil, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, and the United States.
Only 16% of all who were surveyed said that faith led their happiness, although the average was higher in the United States (32%), Brazil (26%), and Poland and Romania (both 18%). In the Czech Republic and Slovenia, faith was top for only 8% of those polled. Countless research has shown that as a group, religious people are happier than people who don’t rely on their faith. You’re likely to be part of a community, and belonging to a similarly-minded group produces positive feelings. “The whole point of spirituality is connection,” says Valliant. “It almost always involves people.”
At 7%, significantly fewer respondents chose work as having the most impact on their happiness, although polling higher were Poland and Romania (both 12%) and Russia (10%); Brazil (4%), and Hungary and the United States (both 3%) were much lower. Work provides meaning and purpose to your life, and research has found that being laid off from work causes a severe dip in happiness that many people don’t completely recover from, even years later. “The key thing is to work in a way that your skills meet your passions,” says Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. “It has to create value in your life and value in the lives of others.”
Only 6% of all polled said community made them happiest. Above average were Germany, Poland, and Romania (all 9%) and Russia (8%); though only 2% of Americans and 1% of Brazilians chose community. Friendships can be particularly rewarding for people who have drastically different interests. “It could be that we’re wired to feel more relaxed and happier around supportive people,” says University of Illinois psychology professor Ed Diener, a leading researcher in the field of positive psychology (the study of happiness). “Physiological studies have found that having a friend with you makes a hill look less steep and makes you less anxious about a stressful situation.”
How can we get even happier?
Roughly 50% of the difference in happiness from one person to another is genetically determined, based on landmark twins research from the University of Minnesota. Other studies have shown that 10% of your happiness comes from life circumstances, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, happiness researcher at the University of California, Riverside. To maximize your happiness, you’re better off focusing on the 40% you can change, she explains, as that “may provide a happiness-boosting potential that is at least as large as, and probably much larger than, changing one’s circumstances.”
For our complete Happiness Poll coverage, click here.