(NaturalNews) It should be no wonder why a class based on the science behind happiness is the most popular course offered at Harvard University. As Benjamin Franklin once stated, "The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself." Truly, the search for happiness is the American dream.
Research has suggested that 50 percent of our happiness levels are determined by a genetic set point/range, 40 percent by our intentioned actions, and only 10 percent by life's circumstances (e.g. income, social status, place of residence, age). Taking into effect the science of epigenetics and our ability to turn on and off certain genes, it appears that the 50 percent subject to genetics can be "altered" or modified by our thoughts and actions. Thus, it remains to be seen that up to 90 percent our ability to be happy is completely contingent on us.
The world authority on happiness and well being research, Dr. Ed Diener, of the University of Illinois has studied 155 countries (99 percent of the world) and has come up with some very telling conclusions. First off, Denmark is ranked the happiest place on earth. Some of the reasons Denmark is ranked so high is that the Danes trust each other. When asked on the Gallup World Poll, "If I lost my wallet would a stranger return it?" A vast majority of the Danes said, "yes!"
Latin American countries like Costa Rico are considered relatively happy. Supporting culture, large extended families, and numerous celebrations makes life enjoyable for them. Also noteworthy are the Masai, a small herding culture in Africa. They are a proud people who have high self-esteem as they are self-sustaining, able to live off the land, and they enjoy their social relationships.
Overall, some of the poorest countries in the world hold the lowest rankings in the Gallup Poll. For example, the four happiest countries (Togo being the lowest) have incomes that are 40 times lower than the four happiest countries, the report said.
According to polls from 2005 to 2011, these were the happiest countries:
1. Denmark 2. Finland 3. Norway 4. Netherlands 5. Canada 6. Switzerland 7. Sweden 8. New Zealand 9. Australia 10. Ireland 11. United States
People can expect to live 28 years longer in the happiest nations. These are generally places where people have their own internal standards and are satisfied in their work; using their skills, mastering a career, and loving what they do. Generally, these are not places where there is social competition or excessive materialism, regardless of affluence. Economic growth; however, doesn't necessarily drive up happiness. When money buys someone out of the burdens of homelessness, then money can in effect, "buy happiness." But once basic needs are met money has little to do with happiness.
Strong, healthy social relationships are the one common denominator of all the happiest places on earth. Other contributing factors to happiness include: life satisfaction; doing activities we love; loving other people; using skills; constantly learning; curbing anger and negativity; having life goals that are bigger than yourself; having more green space; and short commutes.
An interesting finding from Diener's is that raising children does not contribute to happiness or sadness. Research shows that if someone desires to have children, then child rearing will bring great happiness. Whereas, if someone does not like children and the responsibilities associated with raising them, then child rearing will contribute to sadness.
About the author: Journalist, medical researcher, speaker, and life coach, Eric L. Zielinski has been writing prolifically since 1998. Formerly trained as primary care provider and peer-review researcher, he has published an eclectic selection of health content for several print and online publications. Zielinski earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from Wayne State University in 2002 and is currently wrapping up his Doctorate of Chiropractic at Life University along with a Masters of Public Health at Emory University. Visit his blog. Track his work on facebook. Read Eric's other naturalnews.com articles.
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