Happiness is elusive, and has many different meanings for individual people. Some people define happiness through material items like cars, homes and clothes. Whilst others focus on building relationships and raising healthy families.
Either way, Australians seem to be less happy in 2016. In fact, it’s estimated that 45% of people will experience mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety throughout their lifetime. Therefore, plenty can be learnt from the so-called happiest people on Earth.
Psychologist Dr Robert Biswas-Diener has revealed that people who have incredibly strong communities are generally the happiest amongst us. Furthermore, people who prioritise the needs of a community, above their individual needs, enjoy record levels of happiness.
“When I worked with Amish farmers in the American Midwest, a lot of their happiness had to do with a sense of duty and sacrificing their own wants for the good of the community or the good of God”, explained Dr Biswas-Diener.
Biswas-Diener says that people in Amish communities derive greater happiness, by contributing to the wider group. Collective cultures certainly experience more happiness, when compared to individualistic ones.
“Individualists tend to be people like Canadians, Americans, Australians. The unit of measurement is the individual. We want to do what we want, and we want autonomy and freedom and self-expression”, explains Dr Biswas-Diener.
On the other hand, there are collectivists. “For example people from Taiwan or Japan or South Korea (where) the unit of measurement is the group, and they want to promote harmony amongst the group”, says Dr Biswas-Diener.
“When someone from an individualistic culture really can express themselves and be unique and creative and make their mark, that tends to bring about happiness”.
“But for a collectivist, the ability to work for the group, to share credit with others, and to act in a way that preserves harmony is really where they receive more happiness dividends”, says Dr Biswas-Diener.
Happiness can be a force for positive social change, regardless of how it’s achieved. Dr Biswas-Diener believes that happy people are more likely to donate to charity, volunteer for advocacy groups and go above and beyond at work.
“I actually think that happiness is something that motivates you to look outwards and see the world in a more rosy way, to reach out to others and to connect with people”, he says.
So for people who are looking to achieve greater happiness, it may be advisable to foster stronger links within local community groups, religious congregations and friendship circles. Indeed, happiness is not necessarily achieved at an individual level alone.