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How does Australia stack up on happiness and kindness?

Health Industry Hub | March 24, 2023 |

The crises of the last few years have not made us reclusive and hard-hearted, but instead more willing to help each other navigate our challenges, according to World Happiness Report.

Surprisingly, global happiness has not decreased during the pandemic or across the spate of crises in 2022, from war to inflation to climate-related natural disasters. Most populations around the world continue to be remarkably resilient, with global life satisfaction averages in the COVID-19 years 2020-2022 just as high as those in the pre-pandemic years.

Finland remains in the top position for the sixth year in a row, followed by Denmark and Iceland. Interestingly, these top three countries with the happiest populations are led by women.

Australia came in at #12 behind New Zealand ranking at #10 and just above Canada at #12 and the US at #15. War-torn Afghanistan and Lebanon remain the two unhappiest countries in the survey, with average life evaluations more than five points lower (scale of 0 to 10) than in the ten happiest countries.

As Professor John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia and his co-authors wrote “Trust and cooperative social norms . . . demonstrate to people the extent to which others are prepared to do benevolent acts for them and for the community in general. Since this sometimes comes as a surprise, there is a happiness bonus when people get a chance to see the goodness of others in action, and to be of service themselves.”

The World Happiness Report research leverages six key factors to help explain variation in self-reported levels of happiness across the world: social support, income, health, freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption. Governments are increasingly using this analysis to orient policies towards happiness.

“The ultimate goal of politics and ethics should be human wellbeing,” said co-author Professor Jeffrey Sachs, who is the President of UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and Director of the Earth Institute’s Centre for Sustainable Development.

“The happiness movement shows that wellbeing is not a ‘soft’ and ‘vague’ idea but rather focuses on areas of life of critical importance: material conditions, mental and physical wealth, personal virtues, and good citizenship. We need to turn this wisdom into practical results to achieve more peace, prosperity, trust, civility – and yes, happiness – in our societies.”

In 2022, more of the population in each country had recently helped a stranger (an average of over 13% more), donated (over 6% more), and volunteered (over 4% more).

“This year’s report features many interesting insights,” said Professor Lara Aknin, Director of the Helping and Happiness Lab of Simon Fraser University. “But one that I find particularly interesting and heartening has to do with pro-sociality. For a second year, we see that various forms of everyday kindness, such as helping a stranger, donating to charity and volunteering are above pre-pandemic levels. Acts of kindness have been shown to both lead to and stem from greater happiness.”

It’s not all good news in this year’s report. Happiness inequality – the gap between the top half of the population and the bottom half in terms of their life satisfaction – continues to increase. This gap is also widening in terms of how worried, angry, and sad people are feeling.

The reverse is true for kindness, though. Previously, there was more of a gap in how kind the happier and unhappier people in each country were – but over time, that gap has narrowed.

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