Are you happy? That’s a harder question than it sounds. But it’s also an important question. Our state of mind and overall mood can affect every aspect of our life. And other people’s states of mind and moods can affect our life, too. We would all rather live in a happy world, wouldn’t we? Well, as it turns out, the world may be happier than you think—which is good news for world health and health educators.
There are two primary organizations that assess worldwide happiness: the United Nations (UN) and Gallup. However, they use different methodologies.
The UN’s World Happiness Report asks people to rate their satisfaction with their current life on a scale from 0 to 10.* When possible, participants are also asked if they have purpose or meaning in their lives and are asked about the prevalence of happy emotions (joy, pride) and negative emotions (pain, anger, worry) in their lives. However, it’s the 0 to 10 rating that drives the UN’s report and is used to evaluate happiness levels around the world.
Gallup takes a different approach. Instead of rating happiness by how people see their lives, the organization rates happiness by how people live their lives.† To do this, Gallup asks people about the ways they’re experiencing their lives, including whether they laugh and smile a lot, whether they feel well-rested, and whether they’ve recently felt anger or sadness.
With the data from these two organizations, we can gain a good sense of how people around the world are faring, both in how happy they view their lives and in how happily they’re living their lives.
The World Happiness Report and the Gallup Global Emotions Report both reveal a world that’s pretty happy. In the World Happiness Report, the average life satisfaction rating is above a 5, which means most people report being more happy than unhappy.* In Gallup’s report, more than 70% of the world’s population said they experienced a lot of enjoyment, smiled or laughed a lot, felt well-rested, and felt treated with respect.‡
The main difference between the results of the two studies is which nations rate as being happiest. The World Happiness Report places Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, and Finland at the top. Gallup places Paraguay, Costa Rica, Panama, Philippines, and Uzbekistan at the top. But no matter what nation is considered happiest, the fact remains that a great number of people in the world are, for the most part, happy.
Happiness affects world health by affecting the health of individuals. Research has shown that negative emotions can impact biological systems and lead to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other illnesses. Leading a happier life can help someone avoid these health consequences. For example, recent research has found that people who live overall happier lives have lower incidences of coronary heart disease.§ And that may only be the beginning of the health benefits of happiness that scientists will uncover.
For health educators around the world, all of this is helpful knowledge. For one, the link between happiness and health combined with the happiness ratings of various nations can help alert health educators to future health issues (i.e., the current low happiness rating for Syria may predict an increase of heart disease among Syrians in years ahead). Additionally, health educators can use data on happiness as part of their global health education programs, working to educate populations on the benefits of promoting and embracing happiness in daily life.
If you’re interested in helping create a happier, healthier world, consider enrolling in a public health PhD program. Specifically, a PhD in Health Education can help you gain expert-level knowledge in health behavior theory as well as in techniques for changing behaviors that affect health. With your PhD degree, you can pursue a number of the best public health jobs at home and abroad.
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Earning a PhD in Health Education online can put you in position to be a health education leader. It’s a great way to focus your career on making people healthier and happier.
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*J. Helliwell et. al., Chapter 2: The Distribution of World Happiness, World Happiness Report, on the internet at http://worldhappiness.report/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2016/03/HR-V1_web.pdf.
† J. Clifton, The Happiest People in the World, Gallup, on the internet at www.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/189989/happiest-people-world.aspx?g_source=emotions&g_medium=search&g_campaign=tiles.
‡ J. Clifton, World Report on How People's Lives Are Going, on the internet at www.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/212138/world-report-people-lives-going.aspx?g_source=CATEGORY_WELLBEING&g_medium=topic&g_campaign=tiles.
§ S. Rimer, Happiness & Health, Harvard School of Public Health, on the internet at www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/happiness-stress-heart-disease.