It’s a question that’s preoccupied sages for centuries: what is the key to happiness and satisfaction?
Study after study has shown that stress, the polar opposite of happiness, has a negative effect on life expectancy, even at to the molecular level. So while industrialized countries aren’t rushing to imitate Bhutan’s decision to replace GDP with a Gross National Happiness Index, first world countries like France and the UK are increasingly investigating the happiness levels of their citizens.
Numerous factors play into happiness, but the three of the biggest come up again and again. It’s probably not a great surprise that these are wealth, health and having access to nature.
So we’re investigating and seeing how significant these are to your happiness, as well as looking at an outlier that might turn some pre-conceptions on their heads.
Surely It Is All About the Money?
It’s easy to think that money is the key to happiness, especially when you want that latest gadget or luxury holiday that’s just out of financial reach.
A 2010 survey showed that once you dip below a GDP per capita income of $15,000, happiness levels plummet. Countries like China, Russia and India reported noticeably lower levels of happiness than wealthy developed countries like the USA, UK and Denmark.
What the same survey shows though, is that once a country crosses that vital $15,000 threshold, happiness levels don’t increase with income levels. So British people have similar happiness levels to Americans, despite having a per capita income that’s almost $10,000 less than the States.
It’s Official: Trees Are Good For You
Perhaps the stereotype of the tree-hugging hippie has something going for it after all. Surveys have shown that being in green spaces reduces stress levels. This might be because trees decrease environmental stressors – they absorb pollution and lower the temperature.
If you want to boost your creativity and levels of focus, research undertaken by the University of Kansas suggests that you need to spend more time in nature. People who spent just 3 days in nature in, scored 50% higher on creativity tests, suggesting that regularly spending time in nature could have a huge payoff.
But don’t worry if you don’t have time to go hiking or camping. Another study from the University of Illinois in the 90s showed that just having a view over a grassy courtyard rather than urban sprawl meant that the subjects experienced major improvements whilst dealing with major life challenges.
Iceland: The Exception that Proves the Rule?
Iceland is a tree-less country that went through one of the more spectacular economic meltdowns of the financial crunch. Yet it’s one of the most highly ranked countries in the Better Life Index.
As you might expect given the financial turmoil the country’s undergone since 2008, the average Icelandic disposable income in $23, 047, putting in under the OECD average.
However, this is balanced out by the fact that employment is 11% higher than the OECD average, and 98% of Icelanders feel that they have someone they could call on in times of need. These factors could significantly reduce the type of anxiety and worry that feeds into high stress levels.
Although Iceland doesn’t boast the type of green, tree-studded landscapes that many other countries do, it does have much lower levels of pollution than many other countries. Its citizens aren’t going to be relaxing in leafy parks at the weekends, but Iceland’s small population of just 321,857 people gives it a low population density.
This means that even Reykjavik, the capital city, is small yet spacious city where people can make the sort of connections that can be difficult in large metropolitan cities like New York or London.
Iceland has some incredible unique scenery. What better way to get away from it than relaxing in a geothermal pool or visiting a waterfall?
The Better Life Index survey isn’t a one-off either. Iceland is the best country in the world to be a woman, and has an above average life expectancy of 82.
So, it looks like wealth and being able to access green spaces are just some of a complex matrix of aspects that feed into happiness.