How happy are you? What does it mean to be happy? Every year the Global Happiness Survey tries to answer this question by surveying nearly 20,000 people from 27 countries around the world. The results of the 2020 survey showed that happiness is an amazingly resilient human resource which did not significantly decline from the previous year, despite the tremendous COVID-19 related challenges most people faced. Read on to better understand what motivates happiness around the globe and how you can use these insights to increase satisfaction in your own life. 

Health and positive relationships are primary happiness drivers

Research clearly indicates that time spent taking care of your health and physical wellbeing is time well spent. Being healthy is the number one driver of happiness globally, with 92% of people citing it as a primary source. Though health has always been an important aspect of happiness it was especially significant this year—increasing by 4%—as people struggled to avoid contracting COVID-19 and often to maintain their health with fewer resources, such as gyms, in- person coaches and exercise classes.

Not surprisingly, major sources of happiness this year were found close to home. When asked “how happy are you?”, the findings were clear. Positive relationships with partners and children brought great levels of happiness for many people and were cited by 49% of very happy people. With more time spent at home, “pleasant living conditions” also factored significantly and 45% of very happy people cited this as a source. Time and energy spent repairing broken relationships is also a  growing cause. Happiness derived from being forgiven by someone for a wrongdoing increased 5 points, while happiness derived by forgiving someone else increased 4 points. 

Living a Meaningful Life Greatly Increases Happiness

Living a life that feels meaningful and is a major source of happiness (88%). What constitutes a meaningful life will vary from person to person and culture to culture, but there are some common themes which include offering your unique contribution to the world, having positive connections with others and contributing to the greater good of the community that matters to you. Being able to integrate past, present and future experiences into a cohesive narrative is another great source of meaning. It is important to keep in mind that while feeling like you are living a meaningful life tends to increase satisfaction, the search for meaning can temporarily depress happiness, while increasing feelings of distress.

Possibly because  it can be a quick fix that does not often lead to sustainable, long- term meaning or happiness, social media was ranked the lowest of 29 possible sources of happiness. Only 45% of people indicated that engaging with social media helped to make their lives happier. Many more people (41%) recognized that their relationship with social media “doesn’t or couldn’t give me happiness.” 

Happiness is both universal and cultural

The top drivers of happiness were found in many countries surveyed and included health, safety and positive social connections. Another study on happiness showed that this state is very culturally dependent with westernized countries tending to place more value on individual achievement, worthiness and living an exciting and varied life. On the other hand, Eastern cultures tend to be more focused on interconnectedness, harmony and balance. Research also shows that cultures define happiness differently with some valuing excitement, enthusiasm and elation and others preferring calm, peacefulness and serenity.

The countries who reported the greatest levels of happiness—percentage of people reporting feeling very or rather happy—in 2020 were China (93%), the Netherlands (87%), Saudi Arabia (80%), France (78%) and Canada (78%). The countries who reported the lowest happiness levels—percentage of people reporting feeling not very happy or not very happy at all—were Peru (61%), Chile (54%), Spain (49%), Argentina (43%) and Hungary (44%). The diversity and distribution of global happiness indicate that happiness can be found in a variety of cultures and landscapes. 

How Happy Are Americans?

America falls into the middle of the happiness pack, with 70% of US respondents saying they are “very happy” or “somewhat happy.” Overall happiness dipped by 9% compared to June of the previous year and 15% compared to December of 2019, most likely related to living through pandemic- related situations. Overall, Americans were less likely to derive great levels of happiness from their friendships, having more money, material possessions or enjoying their free -time than global averages. They were more likely to derive great happiness from their religious or spiritual well-being. The survey results include a representative sample of 1,000+ Americans aged 18-74.