Academically speaking, happiness is really a meaningless term because you can't really measure happiness. However, you can measure life satisfaction. You can ask people on a scale of one to ten, thinking of their life as a whole, how would they place their happiness. If you get enough people you can start to aggregate out subjectivity and approach objectivity. People only remember about two percent of their life, so asking them to think of their life of a whole is not much data. But people can pretty much remember the last 24 hours. So, if you ask them to recall the last 24 hours how much they smiled, laughed, felt stress, etc., you can get a pretty good idea of their daily emotions or their experienced happiness.
And then there's a question about purpose: "Do you use your strength to do what you do best every day?" And then if you ask a number of other questions about demographics, about age, gender, ethnicity, what your values are, what you do with your day, and you use this clever little statistical trick called a regression analysis, you can start to find out what correlates with happiness.
For the purposes of the book, Blue Zones of Happiness, in a National Geographic article Dan Buettner asked these huge databases to tell him where in the world life satisfaction is highest, daily emotions are highest, and purpose is highest. So, you can learn some things from data, but often to really understand it you have to go there.
It turns out the area with the highest life's of satisfaction is Asia. The happiest place, very counter-intuitively, is the island nation of Singapore. 27 miles long, 247 shopping malls, but it has one of the highest GDPs in the world. GDP is important for us at a certain point and one of the highest life expectancies in the world. In the 1960s it was basically a fishing village.
But what you have here are five million people very ethnically diverse, Indians, Malay and Han Chinese that live in near perfect harmony. And the reason they do is because it was very planned. Lee Kuan Yew the Prime Minister there made sure that almost everybody in the entire country owns their own house. And in these high-rise housing communities, every building reflects the ethnic diversity of the entire country. So, you have no ghettos for the Malay, or no ghettos for the Indian, or gated communities for the Chinese. The kids go to school together, it's very safe and secure. Very tough laws there. If you're a man and you commit a violent crime, there's a chance that you'll be beaten, they it call caning. If you're caught with more than a half an ounce of opioids you get the death penalty.
The other side of that coin is they don't have an opioid crisis there so nobody is dying of overdoses or the crimes that come out of it, and your children or a woman can walk any place in Singapore day or night and not have to worry about being accosted.
And actually you know there's sort of an inverse relationship between freedom and security. Actually, security is more highly correlated with life satisfaction than freedom is.
The one thing all humans have in common is that each of us wants to be happy, says Brother David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar. And happiness, he suggests, is born from gratitude. An inspiring lesson in slowing down, looking where you're going, and above all, being grateful.
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