World Happiness Report 2015

Happy EarthAs a parent, I think of happiness as one of those things we wish for our children and loved ones. Inner joy, peace, and serenity that comes from that combination of love, safety, community, health, and a sense of purpose in one’s life is something we all strive for, regardless of where we come from or live in the world.
I write from the USA, the number 15 country in this survey. I grew up in Zimbabwe, number 115 out of 158 countries. I know that personally many things have at times enhanced or reduced my “happiness”, but would suggest you look at this report in a way that might guide you in how you can help improve our world for your family, for your country, and for the world itself.
At the top are Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, and Norway, with average scores between 7.5 and 7.6. The rest of the top 10 are Canada, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, and Australia, all with average scores above 7.28. Why have 4 countries remained on top since the last report of 2013?
Three-quarters of the differences among countries, is found in these six key variables: GDP per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, social support, trust, perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity. The differences in social support, incomes, and healthy life expectancy are the most important factors.
The positive experiences are happiness, smiling or laughter, enjoyment, feeling safe at night, feeling well-rested, and feeling interested. The negative experiences are anger, worry, sadness, depression, stress, and pain.
The study (found here… ) summary states, “Studies that follow children from birth into adulthood show that of the three key features of child development (academic, behavioral, or emotional), emotional development is the best of the three predictors, and academic achievement the worst”. I feel sad reading this, knowing that so much of our efforts in schools is focused on the academics, while our children are literally suffering emotionally and behaviorally.
“Since mental health is a key determinant of adult life satisfaction, and half of mentally ill adults already showed the symptoms by the age of 15, our focus should be on mental health, social support and connectedness. Altogether 200 million children worldwide are suffering from diagnosable mental health problems requiring treatment. Yet even in the richest countries, only a quarter are in treatment. Giving more priority to the well-being of children is one of the most obvious and cost-effective ways to invest in future world happiness.”

This report points out that societies with “generalized trust, good governance, and mutual support by individuals within that society are conducive to pro-social behavior, which raises well-being, by promoting social support systems, generosity, and voluntarism, honesty in public administration, and by reducing the costs of doing business”.
There is an entire book worth of take home messages from this report. As a dad and pediatrician to thousands, I say love, protect, nurture, and get connected and involved in your children’s lives. Of course we must provide economically (and that seems to always be the number one stressor), but growing up in Zimbabwe, where even today the average person survives on a tiny fraction of what the average American lives on, happiness has much more to do with love, emotional support, and community than it does possessions.
Get involved in your child’s life every chance you can. When our government fails to protect us from big business (capitalism) gone wild, such as mandated vaccines that make no sense (Hepatitis B for newborns whose mothers don’t have Hepatitis B as an example), we must use common sense and stand up for our children in the face of doctors who may have lost their own common sense in their attempts to conform to standards of care and arbitrary quality measures.

Dr. Paul

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