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Stanford Medicine

Mental Health, Research

Study suggests social systems and environment are more important than money in determining happiness

In general, Americans seem to be a pretty happy bunch. The country ranks in the top five on the United Nations Human Development Index 2011, which tracks happiness in different nations based on factors such as income, education, health, life expectancy and sustainability.

If, however, we really want to move up on the list of happiest countries and boost human well-being, then national leaders should focus on promoting access to healthy natural environments and building supportive social systems and focus less on increasing gross domestic product (GDP). That’s according to findings recently presented at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference.

In the study, Roly Russell, PhD, a researcher at the Canadian-based Sandhill Institute for Sustainability and Complexity, examined how countries’ social structures, environmental health and GDP influence human well-being and happiness. Scientific American’s Observations blog reports:

Russell studied numerous studies about happiness in many nations, assessing 248 variables that the various investigations had relied on. The variables ultimately fell into three broad groups of factors: financial and infrastructure (traits such as GDP and gross domestic savings); human and social (years of schooling, freedom of choice); and natural (health of land on which people live, access to nature). He then correlated those factors with the degree to which people said they were happy. Preliminary results indicated that financial factors reflected only about half the variability in happiness across countries, but human and natural capital each accounted for about two thirds of the difference.

Previously: Study advises prioritizing personal relationships over work success to boost happiness, How social ties can influence our health, happiness, If spent wisely, can money buy you happiness? and A call to “legislate the good life”
Photo by Arnett Gill

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