5 Good News Stories About Happiness

Happy Faces

If you’re a long-time Good Good Good reader, or if you’re a first-timer, hey! Welcome! Hello! We’re glad you’re here.

One thing that you’ll quickly learn about us — or something you may have picked up on already — is that we are in the business of real good news, not so much feel good news. 

Our goal is not to live in blissful ignorance (ahem, toxic positivity), but to be deeply informed and in touch with the world, so we can do our part to make it even better. 

There’s a popular quote by poet and Black feminist leader Toi Derricotte that may be familiar to you: “Joy is an act of resistance.” 

Derricotte argues that joy, especially the joy of Black women, is a tool against oppression, that it provides freedom in the face of systemic injustices that endlessly attempt to stifle the experiences of marginalized people.

So, not only does happiness serve as a revolutionary means to survival, but it is also an indicator that a country, group, or region is doing good in the world. 

According to the World Happiness Report, there are six components to measure national happiness: income (more on this in a minute), healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. 

Here are five pieces of happiness news that will help put that all into perspective, and hopefully, add a little joy to your day:

5 pieces of happiness news that remind us: we’re doing alright

Harvard study shows that community makes us happier

In 1938, scientists began tracking the health of 268 Harvard sophomores in what would become one of the world’s longest studies of human development: The Harvard Study of Adult Development

Although the study only included Harvard men (the school was still only open to men when the study began), original participants included President John F. Kennedy and Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. 80 years later, only 19 subjects are still alive, and they are all in their mid-90s. 

Scientists did eventually expand their research to include children of the original participants, now numbering 1,300, aged in their 50s and 60s.

While there are a number of takeaways from the study, and Harvard has collected ample data on the subjects’ life experiences, aging, and health, researchers discovered something especially revealing: that more than genes, money, or fame, close relationships kept people happy throughout their lives.

“Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes,” a story in the Harvard Gazette states. “That finding proved true across the board.” 

Researchers found a strong correlation between the men’s flourishing lives and their relationships with family, friends, and community, even going so far as to suggest that people’s level of satisfaction with their relationships at age 50 was a better predictor of physical health than their cholesterol levels. Experts also discovered that subjects with strong social support experienced less mental deterioration with age. 

“When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment,” said psychiatrist Georg Valliant, who joined the team as a researcher in 1966 and led the study between 1972 and 2004. “But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”

The U.S. has actually gotten happier

Before you get too excited, yes, the United States is still working through some major systemic issues, and lots of individuals and populations are suffering at the hands of these issues, but the World Happiness Report shows the U.S. as the 16th happiest country, out of 150 countries worldwide, in 2022.

Finland has it all figured out, taking first place again for the fifth consecutive year, but the U.S. has jumped three places since 2021. John Helliwell, a World Happiness Report editor, refers to increased “benevolence and trust” during the COVID-19 pandemic as a catalyst for these statistics.

"This surge of benevolence, which was especially great for the helping of strangers, provides powerful evidence that people respond to help others in need, creating in the process more happiness for the beneficiaries, good examples for others to follow, and better lives for themselves," Helliwell said. 

This increase in generosity leans into the idea of social citizenship which posits communal activism, interdependence, and wealth redistribution as pathways to wellbeing. Because of the global pandemic, governments around the world have seen an increase in community-building

Statistics shared in June 2021 illustrate that 73% of UK residents said they were confident they could turn to others in their community for help during the pandemic, and 81% shared that they felt people were doing more to help others than before COVID-19. 

As mutual aid becomes a more widespread vehicle for community care, citizens strive to achieve and improve equity in social programs across the board, and youth lean into activism in hopes of a brighter future, “looking for the helpers” may be the best thing we can do in hopes of a happier America. 

Researchers agree that laws promoting LGBTQ+ equality make people happier

While it may not come as a shock that increased human rights do in fact lead to higher levels of wellbeing, it is exciting to know that researchers have found strong correlations between countries with robust LGBTQ+ rights and well-being.

LGBTQ+ communities often face highly increased rates of depression and suicide caused by a lack of social acceptance. Therefore, creating a society where they can thrive under the full extent of the law leads to increased well-being across the board. 

In fact, a 2019 study concludes that “LGBT inclusion and economic development are mutually reinforcing to each other. Legal rights for LGB people are associated with higher levels of economic development, and the same correlation was found for legal rights for transgender people in an earlier study.” 

A University of Washington study also found that married LGBTQ+ older adults were healthier and happier than single people in the same age group. This study was the first of its kind to explore the potential benefits of marriage among LGBTQ+ couples, after the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling in 2015. 

“In the nearly 50 years since Stonewall, same-sex marriage went from being a pipe dream to a legal quagmire to reality — and it may be one of the most profound changes to social policy in recent history,” said the study’s lead author, Jayn Goldsen. 

Countries are starting to ditch the GDP in their happiness measurements

Adopting a concept introduced by Buddhist nation Bhutan in 1972, a number of nations are now turning to the idea of “Gross National Happiness” in place of “Gross Domestic Product.” 

Countries like New Zealand and the UK are moving away from productivity and an economic bottom line, and towards the welfare of their people.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern adopted this approach in 2019, prioritizing improving the prosperity of local communities compared to a national average. 

GDP measurements often make assumptions about standards of living, which are often different across socioeconomic spectrums, and therefore do not provide an accurate measure of success nationwide. 

Combined with five government spending priorities (improving mental health, reducing child poverty, addressing inequalities in Indigenous communities, thriving in a digital age, and transitioning to a low-emission, sustainable economy), Ardern said she hoped this approach would lay “the foundation for not just one well-being budget, but a different approach for government decision-making altogether.” 

Similarly, the United Kingdom measures well-being through a lens of various income brackets. 

In 2020, the Conversation reported that Canadians are also beginning to shift away from GDP indicators and more towards environmental protection and sustainability. In a peer-reviewed study, results showed the following:

  • Nearly 43% of respondents were likely to support a Canadian politician who would not pursue economic growth as a major policy goal
  • 65% of respondents backed the idea of moving towards an economic system of reduced levels of consumption
  • Over 80% of respondents agreed that Canadians should find ways to increase quality of life while reducing material consumption
  • Between 60 and 88% of respondents prioritize environmental protection, even if it slows down economic growth

These findings, combined with the big moves of other countries, illustrate that, perhaps, GDP is no longer a viable measurement for happiness, and putting people above profit would lead to greater success around the globe. 

Scientists suggest learning — not rewards — provides a new happiness framework

Many of us might assume that winning the lottery or purchasing something we’ve always wanted might make us happier, but that joy is often short-lived, or might not meet our expectations, according to scientists Robb Rutledge and Bastien Blain. 

Instead, their research suggests, that long-term happiness is best found in learning opportunities, rather than in the rewards we might reap. Their research included a study of 75 participants, who played a game with the objective to win a reward. 

The likelihood of receiving a reward was unrelated to the size of the reward, so the scientists could separate the contributions of learning and reward in determining the happiness of the participants. 

They found that the happiness of the participants was not at all dependent on the size of the reward, but rather, when the outcomes of the game were better than expected.

“This helped participants update beliefs while ignoring information about the size of the rewards,” Rutledge and Blain write. “In other words, it was the process of learning how the game worked which made people feel good, rather than the amount of reward they win.”

The researchers said that this pattern makes sense, as learning is often considered intrinsically rewarding, like when we pick up a new language, remember historical facts, or conquer a computer game. 

This research provides a new framework for exploring happiness — and you can help, too! Rutledge and Blain developed a smartphone app: The Happiness Project, where users can play games and report on their happiness as they play them, contributing to the ongoing scientific research on happiness. 

Overall, we recognize that happiness is a major marker in understanding a country’s well-being, and in turn, creating policy to prioritize and build upon the well-being of its people. 

However, when you’re feeling overwhelmed or heartbroken about the world: we want to remind you that it’s OK to feel that way, and it’s OK to take care of yourself before you are able to channel your empathy into good. No economic policy or fancy study can capture joy and keep it alive all the time, but we can work towards a future where it’s a little bit easier to find. 

We’re striving for good — not perfect. We’re glad you’re doing the work with us.

Article Details

May 12, 2022 10:54 AM
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