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Social conditions for human happiness: A review of research


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Empirical research on happiness took off in the 1970s and accelerated after the emergence of positive psychology by 2000. Today this has resulted in some 23,000 research findings. In this article, I take stock of the findings on social conditions for happiness and distinguish between conditions at the macro level of society, the meso level of organisations and the micro level of individual conditions. A new review technique is applied, an online findings archive is used, in which research findings on happiness are described in a uniform way and sorted by subject. © 2015 International Union of Psychological Science.
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A review of research1
Ruut Veenhoven, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Accepted for publication in the International Journal of Psychology
Empirical research on happiness took off in the 1970s and accelerated after the
emergence of positive psychology by 2000. Today this has resulted in some 23.000
research findings. In this paper I take stock of the findings on social conditions for
happiness and distinguish between conditions at the macro-level of society, the
meso level of organizations and the micro-level of individual conditions. A new
review technique is applied, an online findings archive is used, in which research
findings on happiness are described in a uniform way and sorted by subject.
Development of empirical happiness research
Over the ages the subject of happiness has absorbed a lot of thought. Happiness was a
major theme in early Greek philosophy and gained renewed interest in the later West-
European Enlightenment. The philosophic tradition has produced many speculations
about social conditions for happiness but little factual knowledge. Empirical research has
long been hindered by a lack of adequate techniques.
In the 20th century, the social sciences achieved a breakthrough with new
methods for empirical research, which opened up the possibility of identifying conditions
for happiness inductively. This advance instigated a lot of research, most of which was
embedded in the newly established specializations of 'social indicators research', 'health
related quality of life research' and recently, ‘positive psychology’ and ‘happiness
This stream of research is growing fast; the rising number of scientific
publications on happiness is depicted in Figure 1. Much of this work is published in
journals on quality of life, such as ‘Social Indicators Research2’, ‘Quality of Life
Research3’, ‘Applied Research in Quality of Life4’ and ‘Psychology of Wellbeing5’. In
1 This paper draws on several of my earlier publications, in particular Veenhoven 2000, 2008a and 2014a.
2000 the focused ‘Journal of Happiness Studies6 was established (current editor in chief
Antonella Della Fave).
Reviews of this research literature have been published by Diener et. al (1999,
2008), Dolan et. al. (2008), Veenhoven (1984) and Argyle (1987).This review is about
social conditions for happiness in particular and focuses on facts rather than on
interpretations. The data are presented using a new technique.
Figure 1 about here
World Database of Happiness
The soaring stream of research papers on happiness has made it difficult to keep an
overview of the results. To handle this, a findings archive has been established; the
World Database of Happiness7 (Veenhoven 2014a).
This web-based archive limits to findings on happiness in the sense of life-
satisfaction (cf. section 2 of this paper). The archive consists of several collections. It
builds on a collection of all scientific publications about happiness, called the
‘Bibliography of Happiness’ (Veenhoven 2014b). To date, this collection includes
some 9000 books and articles. About half of these publications report an empirical
investigation in which a measure of happiness has been used that fits the concept of
happiness. These indicators are listed in the collection ‘Measures of Happiness’
(Veenhoven 2014c).
The findings yielded by these studies are described on separate ‘finding
pages’, using a standard format and terminology. Two kinds of findings are
discerned: distributional findings on how happy people are at a particular time and
place and correlational findings about the things that go together with more of less
happiness in these populations.
To date, the database contains about 9000 distributional findings, of which
6000 deal with happiness in the general population of nations (Veenhoven 2014d)
and 3000 with happiness in particular social categories, such as students or
psychiatric patients (Veenhoven 2014e).
The collection ‘Correlational Findings’ (Veenhoven 2014f) contains some
14.000 research results. These findings are sorted on subject and the collection can
also be searched on characteristics of the population investigated, i.e. public, place,
time, and on methodological features such as sampling and measurement. Though
far from complete8, this is the best available source of data on conditions for
happiness at present.
Use in this review paper
In this review I draw on that online archive of research findings. Rather than citing
7 The World Database of Happiness is based at Erasmus University Rotterdam and is free available in
internet at :
8 To date (December 2014) the collection of distributional findings in nations is almost complete. The
collection of correlational findings is fairly complete up to the year 2000, but a lot of findings published
since still need to be entered.
each of the research reports on a particular issue, I provide hyperlinks to the
sections in the database where standardized descriptions of the findings on the
matter are stored. This allows me to summarize main trends in the data, while
remaining controllable; the reader can get to details with a few mouse clicks. When it
comes to correlational findings, I will indicate the direction and strength of observed
associations with + and signs (Tables 1, 2 and 3). The data are mostly too
heterogeneous for a quantitative meta-analysis. Hence I limit to an off-hand
condense of the main findings. I note variations across measures and populations,
but do not expand on these.
When used in a broad sense, the word happiness is synonymous with 'quality of life'
or 'well-being'. In this meaning happiness denotes that a life is good, but does not
specify what is good about that life. The word ‘happiness’ is also used in more
specific ways, and these meanings can be clarified with the help of the classification
of qualities of life presented in Figure 2
2.1 Four qualities of life
Vertically in Figure 2 there is a difference between chances for a good life and actual
outcomes of life. Horizontally there is a distinction between external and internal
qualities. Together, these two dichotomies mark four qualities of life, all of which
have been denoted by the word 'happiness'.
Livability of the environment
The left top quadrant denotes good living conditions. Often the terms 'quality-of-life'
and 'wellbeing' are used interchangeably for this particular meaning, especially in the
writings of ecologists and sociologists. Economists sometimes use the term 'welfare'
to denote this meaning. 'Livability' is a better word, because it refers explicitly to a
characteristic of the environment. Politicians and social reformers typically stress this
quality of life.
Life-ability of the person
The right top quadrant denotes inner life-chances. That is: how well we are equipped
to cope with the problems of life. This aspect of the good life is also known by
different names. In biology the phenomenon is referred to as 'adaptive potential'. On
other occasions it is denoted by the medical term 'health'. Sen (1992) calls this
quality of life variant 'capability'. I prefer the simple term 'life-ability', which contrasts
elegantly with 'livability'. This quality of life is central in the thinking of therapists and
Usefulness of life
The left bottom quadrant represents the notion that a good life must be good for
something more than itself. This presumes some higher value, such as ecological
preservation or cultural development. In fact, there is a myriad of values on which the
usefulness of a life can be judged. Moral advisors, such as your pastor, emphasize this
quality of life.
Satisfaction with life
Finally, the bottom right quadrant represents the inner outcomes of life. That is the
quality of a life in the eye of the beholder. As we deal with conscious humans this quality
boils down to subjective appreciation of life. This is commonly referred to using terms
such as 'subjective wellbeing', 'life-satisfaction' and 'happiness' in a limited sense of the
word. This is the kind of happiness I deal with in this paper.
Figure 2 about here
2.2 Four kinds of satisfaction
This brings us to the question of what 'satisfaction' is precisely. This is also a word with
multiple meanings and again we can elucidate these meaning using a simple scheme.
Scheme 2 is based on two distinctions; vertically between satisfaction with parts of life
versus satisfaction with life as-a-whole, and horizontally between passing satisfaction
and enduring satisfaction. These two bi-partitions yield again a four-fold taxonomy.
Passing satisfaction with a part of life is called 'pleasure'. Pleasures can be sensory,
such as a glass of good wine, or cerebral, such as the reading of this text. The idea that
we should maximize such satisfactions is called 'hedonism'.
Enduring satisfaction with a part of life is referred to as 'part-satisfaction'. Such
satisfactions can concern a domain of life, such as working-life, and an aspect of life,
such as its variety. Sometimes the word happiness is used for such part-satisfactions,
in particular for satisfaction with one’s career.
Passing satisfaction can be about life-as-a-whole, in particular when the experience is
intense and 'oceanic'. This kind of satisfaction is usually referred to as 'peak-experience'.
When poets write about happiness they usually describe an experience of this kind.
Likewise religious writings use the word happiness often in the sense of a mystical
ecstasy. Another word for this type of satisfaction is 'enlightenment'.
Enduring satisfaction with one's life-as-a-whole is called 'life-satisfaction' and also
commonly referred to as 'happiness'. Elsewhere I have delineated this concept in more
detail and defined happiness as 'the overall appreciation of one's life-as-a-whole'
(Veenhoven 1984).
Figure 3 about here
2.3 Conceptual focus of this review
This paper is about happiness in the sense of life-satisfaction; enduring enjoyment of
one’s life as a whole. This definition is fundamental to the above mentioned World
Database of Happiness, which serves as an online appendix to this review of the
available research findings on this particular subject.
Thus defined happiness is something we have in mind. Consequently happiness can
be measured using questions, that is, by asking people how much they enjoy their
life-as-a-whole. Questions on happiness can be posed in various contexts; clinical
interviews, life-review questionnaires and survey interviews. The questions can also
be posed in different ways; directly or indirectly, and by means of single or multiple
All questions ever used have been checked for fit with the above definition of
happiness9. About half failed that test for face-validity. Accepted questions are listed
in the collection ‘Measures of Happiness’ of the World Database of Happiness
(Veenhoven 2014c).
A common question10 reads as follows:
All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Dissatisfied Satisfied
Many misgivings have been advanced about such self report of happiness, it has
been doubted that responses validly reflect how people feel about their life, that
responses are erratic and incomparable across persons and cultures. Though
plausible at first sight, these qualms have not been supported by empirical research,
see for example Diener & Oishi (2004), VanPraag & Ferrer-i-Carbonell (2004) and
Veenhoven (1984, 2008a). Other indications for the validity of happiness self reports
are: their stability over time, fit with rating by others and correlation with various
aspects of a good life, such as reported in this paper. Particularly telling is that self-
9 Detail about this selection is found in the introductory text to the collection Measures of Happiness
(Veenhoven 2014b)
10 Question used in Gallup World Survey. Code in collection Measures of Happiness O-SWL-c-sq-n-11-a
reported happiness predicts longevity (Veenhoven 2008b).
Questions on happiness are commonly used in large scale survey studies, such as
the General Social Survey in the USA and the Eurobarometer in the EU. This has
taught us much about the differences in happiness within and across nations.
4.1 Differences in happiness within nations
Happiness differs considerably across nations; the highest level was observed in
Denmark and the lowest in Zimbabwe. The distribution of responses to the above
mentioned question on life satisfaction in these two countries is presented in the
Figures 4 and 511. Though average happiness was high in Denmark (8.1), still 10%
of the population scored 5 or less. Likewise, in Zimbabwe 14% scored 8 or more in
spite of an average as low as 3.312.
Figure 4 about here
Figure 5 about here
4.2 Differences in average happiness across nations
Happiness has now been assessed in most countries of the world, a notable
exception being North-Korea. A world map of happiness is presented in Figure 6.
Differences in average happiness are indicated by the shades of the color green; the
darker the green, the happier the people in the nation. One can now see that the
high average happiness in Denmark is typical for developed nations. One can also
see that the low level of happiness in Zimbabwe is no exception, since happiness is
equally low in most African nations. Latin America surprises us in this picture, with
higher scores than one would expect on the basis of the news reports emanating
from that region.
Figure 6 about here
Trend of Happiness in Nations
Survey research on happiness started in the late 1940s and took off in the early
1970s. Until recently, it was difficult to discern a pattern in the data; changes over
time tend to be small and our view of the trend is often blurred by minor variations in
sampling and questioning. Now that we have more and better data, a pattern of
rising happiness has emerged (Veenhoven 2014h). Some illustrative cases are
11 Data World Values Survey around 2000
12 Means expressed on scale 0-10, by linear transformation of the means on scale 1-10 (respectively 8.2 and
presented on Figure 7. This rising level of happiness is accompanied by a decline of
inequality as measured by the standard-deviation (Veenhoven 2014g).
Figure 7 about here
The conceptual scheme presented in Figure 2 can also be used to chart conditions
for happiness. This outcome of life in the right bottom quadrant is evidently
dependent on the chances for a good life denoted in the upper half, happiness
depending on both the livability of an environment and the individual’s ability to use
these chances. In this review of social conditions for happiness I focus on the top-left
livability quadrant. In addition to social conditions, this quadrant also covers physical
conditions within a country, such as climate, which will not be considered in this
Social conditions for happiness are studied at the macro level of nations, the
meso level of organizations and at the micro-level of individuals.
5.1 Macro level of society
As we have seen in section 4.2, there are large differences in average happiness across
nations and this has instigated much research on the causes of these differences. The main
results are summarized in Table 1. The many dark shaded cells in this table indicate that the
subject is well researched. In the column ‘partial’ the dark shaded cells denote that many
attempts have been made to clean the zero-order correlation from spurious effects, typically
using regression analyses involving many controls. Since national characteristics are
typically much intertwined, this involves the risk of underestimation. The blank cells in the
column ‘longitudinal’ indicate that analysis of trends is scarce as yet.
People live typically happier in rich countries than in poor ones. This difference is at least
partly due to an effect of material affluence as such, since much of the correlation remains
when other nation characteristics, such as climate, are controlled. Analysis of change over
time reveals that economic growth goes together with rising happiness (Veenhoven &
Vergunst 2014). This contradicts the well-known ‘Easterlin Paradox’, which holds that rising
wealth in nations does not add to the happiness of citizens (Easterlin 1974). Economic
growth adds more to happiness in poor nations than it does in rich ones.
People also live happier in nations that provide the most opportunities to choose. Economic
freedom adds more to happiness in developing nations than in developed ones, but political
freedom correlates stronger with happiness in developed nations. Data on private freedom
are limited to developed nations. A related finding is that people live happier in individualistic
cultures than in collectivistic ones (Veenhoven 1999). Correlations between freedom and
happiness are much reduced when economic development is controlled. The available data
do not yet allow comparison over time.
An explanation for this correlation holds that freedom allows people to choose a way
of life that fits them best and that the benefits of a good fit outweigh the costs of choice. It
has also been suggested that human nature involves a preference for independence
(Veenhoven 1999).
Gender equality stands out as a strong correlate of happiness, but income equality does not.
The positive correlation with gender-equality is largely due to a greater opportunity to
choose. The non-correlation with income equality is probably the result of both positive and
negative effects that balance out (Berg & Veenhoven 2005).
Surprisingly there is no correlation between murder rate and average happiness in nations,
probably because of the small number of people affected. Below we will see a much
stronger correlation with corruption, which affects a greater share of the population.
At first sight social security is positively correlated to average happiness in nations,
but no association is left when wealth is controlled. Analysis of change over time does not
show a decline in happiness in western nations following cuts in welfare expenditure
(Veenhoven 2011).
Institutional quality
People live happier in well organized societies, where they can count on rule of law and
where government organizations function properly. This pattern also appears in a negative
correlation with corruption. In the case of government effectiveness, the ‘technical’ quality of
the bureaucracy counts more than its ‘democratic’ responsiveness. The effect of quality of
government on the happiness of citizens is stronger in developed nations than in developing
ones, among other things because central coordination is more required for the functioning
of complex modern societies (Ott 2010).
Much of the correlation with institutional quality remains when wealth of the nation is
controlled, which is again a rather severe test, since institutional quality is an important
determinant of economic success. In this line it is argued that institutional quality also
facilitates success in individual lives, since it provides us with a predictable environment in
which we are not too dependent on kin and can safely invest in our future. At this point there
is an important connection between institutional quality and freedom.
Irrespective of these effects on personal goal achievement, a solid institutional is also
rewarding in itself, like playing a soccer match is more pleasurable when the rules of the
game are respected. Frey et. al (2004) refer to this effect as ‘procedural utility’.
Most of the above mentioned societal correlates are part of the 'modernity' syndrome and
more direct measures of modernity also show a strong correlation with happiness, such as
urbanization and globalization. The more modern the country, the happier its citizens are.
This finding will be a surprise to prophets of doom, who associate modernity with anomie
and alienation. Though modernization may involve problems, its benefits are clearly greater
(Veenhoven & Berg 2013).
The macro-social conditions listed in Table 1 together explain about 75% of the differences
in average happiness in nations depicted on the world map on Figure 6. Since measurement
error in all variables is likely to have attenuated the coefficients, this is close to perfect
correlation. Explained variance is lower in individual level analysis when country
characteristics are entered after personal characteristics.
Table 1 about here
5.2 Meso level of organizations
We spend much of our life in organizations, such as schools, work-places and retirement
homes and it would be worth knowing what kind of organizations are the most livable. There
is a lot of research on the relation between organizational characteristics and satisfaction
with these, such as satisfaction with work conditions, which belong in the ‘part-satisfaction’
quadrant of Figure 3. As yet there is little research on the relation with life satisfaction,
bottom-right quadrant in Figure 3. See Table 2 for a visualization of the state of this
research. Most of the cells are empty.
Autonomy stand out as a predictor of life satisfaction in three kinds or organizations: care
homes, convents and work organizations. Yet in all cases autonomy is measured using self
reports, which involves the risk of a ‘top down effect’, happiness affecting the perception of
autonomy. Still these findings fit the observation that people in prison are quite unhappy,
even unhappier than institutionalized psychiatric patients13. The correlation of individual
happiness with autonomy in organizations also fits the above noted correlation of average
happiness with freedom in a nation.
The scant data on size of an organization show no correlation with the happiness of nuns
and students, but a positive correlation with the happiness of managers in work-
organizations. Apparently small is not always beautiful.
Table 2 about here
5.3 Micro level of individuals
Numerous studies from all over the world have examined the relation between individual
happiness and social position. The results are summarized in Table 3.
Social status
Many studies have assessed links with social status variables. The guiding assumption is
typically that people in advantaged social positions will take more pleasure in life. The
differences are mostly in the expected direction, but small.
13 World Database of Happiness, Correlational Findings (Veenhoven 2012d): Happiness and Prison (P11)
Income: A commonly investigated issue is the relationship of life-satisfaction with earnings.
Studies in affluent welfare states typically find only small correlations, but quite substantial
differences are observed in other countries. The poorer the nation, the higher the correlation
between happiness and income tends to be. Both absolute income and relative income play
a role.
Education: The pattern of correlation with schooling is similar. Again there are high
correlations in poor nations and low correlations in rich ones. Recent studies in rich nations
have shown even slightly negative correlations with level of school-education. Likewise,
there is no correlation between IQ and happiness in rich nations (Veenhoven & Choi 2012).
Despite the above, average happiness is higher in the most educated countries
where average IQ is also higher. This means that education does affect happiness indirectly;
intellectual development is required for the functioning of modern society and life in modern
society appears to be more satisfying than in traditional societies. So education is a case of
different effects being found at the macro and the micro level.
Occupation: All over the world, professionals and managers tend to be most satisfied with
life. It is not clear as to what extent this difference results from the rewards of work-tasks,
related advantages or differential selection.
Minority: Minority status is mostly related to lower happiness. Average happiness tends to be
lower among ethnic minorities than among the general population and is also found to be
lower among homo-sexuals than among hetero-sexuals. Yet there is much variation across
publics and nations.
Social participation
Happiness tends to be higher among persons who have 'paid work', however, 'house wives'
are not less satisfied, and neither does 'retirement' make life less satisfying. Happiness is
more consistently related to participation in 'voluntary organizations'. In both cases follow-up
studies show a causal effect of social participation on happiness.
Intimate ties
Happiness is consistently related to presence and quality of intimate networks,
however, not all kinds of ties are equally related to happiness in all countries.
Marriage: In western nations, the tie with a 'spouse' is more important than contacts
with 'friends' and 'relatives'. Follow-up studies have shown a causal effect of
marriage on happiness.
Children: Happy people more often raise a family, but their happiness declines
slightly after the birth of their first child. As a result cross-sectional studies find little
difference in the happiness of married people with and without children. It is a yet not
clear how children affect happiness in developing nations.
Family: Studies all over the world show a positive correlation between happiness and
contacts with wider kin. Follow-up studies reveal a causal effect.
Friends: Likewise contacts with friends appear to add to happiness, again universally.
Together these micro-social conditions explain no more than 15% of the differences in
individual happiness in modern nations. This appears from an analysis of the various studies
that assessed the summed effect of such variables14. About 10% can be attributed to strikes
of good or bad luck (Headey & Wearing 1992). Most of the variance is found in individual
life-ability; right-top quadrant in Figure 2. Twin studies suggest that some 35% of the
differences in happiness have a genetic basis (Bartels & Boomsma 2009) and the additional
effect of learned skills and behavior has been estimated 40% (Lyubomirski 2008). This
reflects that living conditions are typically sufficient in modern society, and that social
inequalities therefore do not affect happiness very much. Differences are greater in
developing nations and the correlations between happiness and social conditions therefore
Table 3 about here
So much for what we do know now. What can we do to learn more?
Since its inception in the 1970s, research on social conditions for happiness has
provided us mainly with correlational findings. Yet correlations can be spurious or
result from reversed causality. For instance the high correlation between happiness
and marital status can be due to the fact that healthy people have better marriage
chances, and that it is health that determines happiness rather than marriage. The
correlation can also be due to an effect of happiness on marriage chances, since
happiness facilitates social contacts in general and intimate contacts in particular.
These causal paths have been explored in the case of marriage, as can be
seen in Table 3. The dark shaded cell in the column ‘partial’ correlations indicates
that the correlation has survived several checks for spuriousness. Likewise the
shaded cell in the column ‘longitudinal’ denotes that follow-up studies have shown
that entering marriage goes with a rise in happiness. However the many blanks in
the table show that this case of marriage is an exception rather than the rule. In most
cases we can only speculate about the direction of causality involved. This calls for
more longitudinal analyses, which can use the growing number of large scale panel
studies, such as the German Socio-Economic Panel Study15 and the British
Household Panel Survey16.
14 World Database of Happiness, Correlational Findings: S15.2 Summed effects of current conditions
Causal paths
Assessing direction of causality is one thing. The next step is to assess how
causality works. Several mechanisms have been mentioned in the case of marriage,
such as gratification of the need for belongingness, mutual support and behavioural
correction, but as yet it is difficult to demonstrate such effects empirically and to
assess their relative importance. In the case of income some studies differentiated
between income as such and comparative income and found independent effects on
happiness. Research of this kind is still in its infancy. In most cases we can only
speculate about the way in which social conditions affect happiness.
Most studies have looked for effects of social conditions on the happiness in the
general public. Yet many effects are likely to be contingent on persons and
situations. Though marriage may gratify universal needs for sex and belongingness,
some will benefit more from matrimony than others, e.g. people with good social
skills and without sexual disorders. Likewise, earning a high income will not add
equally much to the happiness of everybody and the data show a stronger effect of a
high income on males than females. Research on such differences will allow more
informed choices in life and evidence based life coaching (Veenhoven 2015).
Split-up of social conditions for happiness by sub-groups is not very common
as yet; the focus is rather on distilling ‘pure’ general effects using many control
variables. The specifications made so far can be selected in the collection
‘Correlational Findings’ of the World Database of Happiness.
Take home message
Better understanding of social conditions for happiness is within reach.
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all pays more than being smarter. International Journal of Happiness and
Development, 1: 5-27.
Veenhoven, R. & Vergunst, F. (2014).The Easterlin illusion: Economic growth does
go with greater happiness. International Journal of Happiness and
Development, 2 (in press).
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Figure 1
Number of scientific publications on happiness by 5 year periods
Source: Bibliography of Happiness17 (Veenhoven 2014b)
17 Publications in this Bibliography are selected for fit with the concept of happiness as defined in section 2 of
this paper and this concept is called by different names, such as life-satisfaction and subjective wellbeing. So
this graph is not a count of the use of word happiness in scientific literature.
Figure 2
Four qualities of life
Outer qualities
Inner qualities
Life chances
Livability of environment
Life-ability of the person
Life results
Usefulness of life
Satisfaction with life
Source: Veenhoven 2000
Figure 3
Four kinds of satisfaction
Part of life
Part satisfactions
Peak experience
Life satisfaction
Figure 4
Happiness in Denmark
Figure 5
Happiness in Zimbabwe
Figure 6
Average happiness in 148 nations 2000-2009
Source: Happiness in Nations (Veenhoven 2014d)
Figure 7
Trend average happiness in nations
Source: Happiness in Nations (Veenhoven 2014d)
Table 1
Findings on societal conditions for happiness
Characteristics of nations
Observed correlation with happiness
Detail in World Database of Happiness
Links to sections in the collection of correlational
N4 Conditions in one’s Nation
Across all nations
In particular kinds
of countries
cross sectional
GDP p/c
N4.1.3 Economic affluence
Economic freedom
N415.3 Economic freedom
Political freedom
N4.15.2 Political freedom
Private freedom
N4.15.1 Private freedom
Income equality
N4.8.2 Income inequality
Gender equality
N4.8.1 Gender inequality
Physical security; murder rate
N4.13 Safety
Social security
N4.5.1.4 Social security
Institutional quality
Rule of law
N4.10 Justice
Good governance
N4.6.6 Quality of Government
N4.10.1 Corruption
N4.2.4 Urbanization
N5 Position of one’s nation
Symbols explained on appendix
Table 2
Findings on happiness and organizational conditions
Characteristics of
Observed correlation with happiness
Detail in World Database of Happiness
Links to sections in the collection of
correlational findings
among people in general
In different sets of
cross sectional
Care homes
I2 Institutional Living Restrictiveness of setting
I2 Institutional Living Size of setting
W4 Work Conditions Self direction at work
S1 School Size
S1 School Intellectual level
S1 School Social characteristics
Ethnic homogeneity
S1 School Ethnic homogeneity
Work organizations
W4 Work Conditions Size of plant
Supportive leadership
W4 Work Conditions Leadership of boss
W4 Work Conditions Self direction at work
Symbols explained on appendix
Table 3
Findings on happiness and social position
Characteristic of position
Observed correlation with happiness
Detail in World Database of Happiness
Links to sections in the collection of
correlational findings
In general population samples
In different sets of
cross sectional
Social rank
I 1 Income, P10 Possessions
E2 Education
O1 Occupation, S9 Socio Economic Status
E3 Ethnicity, M8 Migration
Social participation
E1 Employment
Voluntary work
S7 Participation in voluntary organizations
Intimate network
M1 Marital career, M2 Marital status
C3 Having children
Contacts with wider family
F3 Family of relatives
Contacts with friends
F6 Friendship
Symbols explained on appendix
Key to summary markers in Tables 1, 2 and 3
Strength of observed correlations
++ very positive
+ positive
+/ mixed findings, both positive and negative
0 unrelated
Similarity of findings across people and nations
= similar
similar direction, but difference in strength of correlation
Shading of cells indicates availability of research findings
a few
a lot
... As in other subfields related to socioeconomic development, however, part of the discussion of well-being has been oriented to distinguishing economic and cultural factors (Schyns, 1998). Political science points to institutional factors (Inglehart & Klingemann, 2000), whereas sociology emphasizes the role of social contexts and socialization (Hitlin & Piliavin, 2004;Veenhoven, 2015). One line of research on the value-well-being relationship focuses on the congruence between individuals' values and those of the environment (Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000;Morrison & Weckroth, 2018). ...
... Differences among countries might stem from the quality of democracy, freedom of the press, institutions, and/or other factors. See, for example, Veenhoven (2015). We do not use these effects in the following tables in the paper. ...
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Despite the abundant literature in Happiness Science, no paper to date has studied the joint effects of human values on subjective well-being at individual and contextual level. Using European Social Survey data for life satisfaction and Salomon H. Schwartz’s scale for human values with four and ten dimensions, this paper presents novel evidence on the direct effects of individual, regional, and national human values, utilizing two different ways of building cultural indicators of human values. We show that regional factors explain approximately 2% of the dispersion of individual life satisfaction, whereas national factors explain around 12%. The results on the effects of individual human values support Sortheix and Schwartz’s hypothesis, with a significant difference: Individual Conformity has a positive impact on well-being, not the negative sign Sortheix and Schwartz predict for Conservation values. We also find positive direct cultural effects for Benevolence and Conformity and negative effects for Tradition . Additionally, we propose a research agenda for human values and contextual effects on well-being studies.
... SWB varies between individuals with different demographic characteristics. Socioeconomic attributes, such as marital status, family income, education level and employment, are also closely related to SWB (Veenhoven, 2015). Recent studies have assessed the association between people's daily activity and SWB. ...
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Metropolises in China are undergoing rapid suburbanization processes, resulting in spatial differences in the built environment from the city centre to the outer suburbs. The continuous suburbanization has changed residents’ subjective well-being and behaviours. The association between built environment and subjective well-being has been studied extensively, but there is scarce research on the influence of the built environment on both subjective well-being and behaviours with regards to the self-selection effect in the suburbanization process. This paper constructs an analytical framework to simulate the impacts of the built environment on subjective well-being and behaviours. The propensity score matching method is applied to questionnaire data from Hangzhou in 2018 to investigate these impacts. The results of this research show that in three selected districts, the mean score difference for fitness and social behaviour is quite significant (0.4 and 0.2, respectively), whereas the mean score for subjective well-being is 0.1. Both fitness and social behaviours are significantly and positively related to subjective well-being. Fitness behaviour has a greater impact than social behaviour. The four dimensions of built environment impact on both subjective well-being and behaviours after self-selection were controlled using the propensity score matching method. The results of the study can inform local governments; exurban development zones should be equipped with more high-end public facilities and public transportation in order to improve residents’ quality of life in the suburbanization process.
... For instance, the socio-politico-economic situation of the country regulated one's level of happiness. Consistent with the previous literature (see Veenhoven, 2000Veenhoven, , 2015, social issues such as the curtailment of freedom, equality and discrimination emerged as factors impeding happiness. Similarly, in terms of the political and economic factors (as noted by Biswas-Diener et al., 2012), dissatisfaction with government functionaries and political malpractices such as corruption and economic factors such as unemployment and poverty were found to be other happiness barriers. ...
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The present study aimed at understanding the subjective perception of happiness in a sample of Indian participants from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Using convenience sampling, individual interviews were conducted with 60 participants aged between 19 to 73 years (M Age = 40 years). This study employed reflexive thematic analysis to analyse the written transcripts. Nine themes were generated which captured the essence of happiness for Indians— Feelings and Expressions of Happiness; Human Ties and Happiness which encompassed four sub-themes— family bond, the company one keeps, the pandemic and social disengagement , and the nation, society and happiness; Satisfaction with Material Needs and Resources; Lifestyle and Health; Work and Play; Accomplishment and Appreciation; Nature Connectedness; Religious and Spiritual beliefs; and Happiness as a Personal responsibility—Role of Positive Personality Traits . These findings revealed our respondent's multidimensional conceptualization of happiness, and adds to the growing body of happiness literature from the South Asian context.
... This study analyzes the differences between several predictors of QoL in aging adults in four European regions. Being conscious of some economic inequalities and their impact on subjective wellbeing and QoL is of paramount importance to validate models useful for comparing successful aging processes across countries (Rowe et al., 2016;Veenhoven, 2015). Predictive capacity of gender, age, living with a partner, having received and given help, number of chronic diseases, depression, and if the household is able to make ends meet was assessed in ten models. ...
This study aims to reveal that the subjective happiness of individuals is affected not only by socioeconomic conditions but also by the local environments in which they live, and the conditions demanded by citizens in the local environment may vary depending on the level of happiness. We use the 2018 Seoul Survey of approximately 40,000 citizens (±0.4%p sampling error at 95% confidence level) and generate a final sample of 30,728 individuals between the ages of 25 and 65 years. The results of the unconditional quantile regression show a heterogeneous (non-linear) relationship between happiness and local environments. More specifically, we observe a decreasing importance of physical environments (leisure, green spaces, pedestrian spaces, public transit, public amenities, and community pride) and a increasing importance of socio-relational characteristics of the environment (trust, altruism, and safety) with increasing quantiles of happiness. Our findings suggest that public policies aimed at promoting citizen happiness through improving the local environments should more actively consider issues of efficiency and equity.
Background The microbiota of the gut contributes to human mental health through the gut-brain axis. Treatment with fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) offers the opportunity to explore the effects of modification of the microbiota on mental health in patients with a perturbed gut microbiota after multiple recurrent Clostridioides difficile infections (rCDI). Methods Symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as self-rated health, happiness and dispositional optimism were assessed pre-FMT (n = 49), and post-FMT at 4 (n = 49) and 26 weeks (n = 34) in 49 rCDI patients, treated with FMT using feces from healthy donors. Results Patients had a mean age of 68.4 years, and 67.3% were female. Improvements of self-rated health (p < 0.001) and a decrease in severity of depression (p < 0.001) and anxiety symptoms (p = 0.045) were observed 4 weeks after FMT. These improvements persisted until week 26. No changes were found for happiness and dispositional optimism. The improvement of mental health was statistically independent of the immediate success of FMT, though the number of patients who developed a relapse within 2 months after FMT was low. Limitations Observational study without a control group. Conclusion FMT was associated with significant improvements of severity of depression and anxiety symptoms, which persisted until 6 months after FMT. Future larger studies should answer the question whether these effects are associated with clinical recovery, or whether they are partly mediated through gut microbiota changes on psychological wellbeing.
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Conference Paper
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This study has been prepared to explain two important types of political representation, descriptive representation and substantial representation and to introduce theoretical discussions and empirical findings on these two. In its most general definition, descriptive representation means that a candidate represents the voters who voted for him in terms of descriptive characteristics such as ethnic, religious, linguistic, gender, age. Substantial representation, on the other hand, is used to describe how a candidate represents the voters who voted for him in terms of their values, ideas and ideology and etc. As can be expected, it is expected that there will be a natural relationship between these two types of representation. Namely, the candidates who represent their voters descriptively, that is, with descriptive features similar to theirs, are expected to better represent the values, thoughts and ideologies of their voters in the policies they produce. Ideally, a candidate would be expected to strongly represent their electorate in both types of representation. However, it should not be forgotten that the realization of political representation depends on many institutional and individual factors. This study will discuss the subject of political representation in general, and descriptive and substantive representation in particular, and the subject of which systemic, institutional and individual factors will strengthen political representation.
This study is one of the first to explore the 5 waves of the China Family Panel Studies data from 2010 to 2018, assessing determinants of life satisfaction among a representative sample of Chinese individuals divided into different age groups. We employed the random-effects ordered probit method, and then handled endogeneity by estimating an Extended Regression Model. Several crucial conclusions are reached. Gender affects Chinese life satisfaction, and women tend to report higher life satisfaction than men. The Chinese elderly are more satisfied with life than younger individuals, while the “sandwich generation” may expect a long period of low life satisfaction in the future, which indicates that different Chinese generations are experiencing a “U” shaped life satisfaction trend. Surprisingly, education status is not powerful, and would be not a key variable in explaining Chinese life satisfaction, which may be related with “Credential Inflation” caused by the Chinese educational system reforms. Similarly, marital status is not crucial for the elderly’s life satisfaction, indicating that the phenomenon of “Happiness Rift” does not apply evenly in the Chinese society. Moreover, the social resources related with the Hukou type affect the Chinese individuals’ life satisfaction, but the influence may be less significant in the future as the Hukou system undergoes reforms. Lastly, socioeconomic status and subjective individual perceptions, such as relative income, social status, and future confidence, are powerful in explaining Chinese life satisfaction, suggesting that “a Triton among the minnows” analogy characterizes Chinese life satisfaction, which leads to regional discrimination.
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Background Many previous studies have proved that positive psychology can promote mental health. However, little is known about how and when it promotes mental health in older adults. Methods The data of this study were sourced from the 2017 wave of Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS), involving 1,537 older adults aged 60 and above. OLS regression model was used to explore the impact of positive psychology on mental health of the elderly. Moreover, stata 16.0 was used to measure the moderating effect of individualism on the relationship between positive psychology and mental health. Results After controlling for demographic characteristics, socio-economic status and lifestyle factors, the regression results suggest that positive psychology was associated with mental health (coefficient = 0.112, p < 0.01). In addition, the positive relationship was significantly stronger for people who were older, married, lived in urban areas, with higher education and higher subjective social class position, and higher exercise frequency. Moreover, the moderating effect analysis results suggest that individualism strengthened the relationship between positive psychology and mental health. Conclusions This study reveals that positive psychology has a positive effect on mental health among the elderly, and the positive health effect shows significant age, marital status, living areas, education background, social class position and physical exercise inequalities. Furthermore, this study also provides new evidence indicating that individualism positively moderates the relationship between positive psychology and mental health. Promoting positive psychology can be a promising way for China to promote psychological care for the elderly in the future.
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This book is about the degree to which people take pleasure in life: in short 'happiness'. It tries to identify conditions that favor a positive appreciation of life. Thus it hopes to shed more light on a longstanding and intriguing ques­ tion and, possibly, to guide attempts to improve the human lot. During the preceding decades a growing number of investigations have dealt with this issue. As a result there is now a sizable body of data. Yet it is quite difficult to make sense of it. There is a muddle of theories, concepts and indicators, and many of the findings seem to be contradictory. This book attempts to bring some order into the field. The study draws on an inventory of empirical investigations which involved valid indicators of happiness; 245 studies are involved, which together yield some 4000 observations: for the main part correlational ones. These results are presented in full detail in the simultaneously published 'Databook of Happiness' (Veenhoven 1984). The present volume distils conclusions from that wealth of data. It tries to assess the reality value of the findings and the degree to which correlations reflect the conditions of happiness rather than the consequences of it. It then attempts to place the scattered findings in context. As such, this work is not a typical study of literature on happiness.
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The 'Easterlin Paradox' holds that economic growth in nations does not buy greater happiness for the average citizen. This thesis was advanced in the 1970s on the basis of the then available data on happiness in nations. Later, data have disproved most of the empirical claims behind the thesis, but Easterlin still maintains that there is no long-term correlation between economic growth and happiness. This last claim was tested using the time trend data available in the World Database of Happiness, which involve 1,531 data points in 67 nations that yield 199 time-series ranging from 10 to more than 40 years. The analysis reveals a positive correlation between GDP growth and rise of in happiness in nations. Both GDP and happiness have gone up in most nations, and average happiness has risen more in nations where the economy has grown the most; r = +0.20 p < 05. On average a 1% growth in income per capita per year was followed by a rise in average happiness on scale 0-10 of 0.0034; thus, a gain in happiness of a full point would take 60 years with an annual economic growth of 5%.
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The rational pursuit of happiness requires knowledge of happiness and in particular answers to the following four questions: (1) Is greater happiness realistically possible? (2) If so, to what extent is that in our own hands? (3) How can we get happier? What things should be considered in the choices we make? (4) How does the pursuit of happiness fit with other things we value? Answers to these questions are not only sought by individuals who want to improve their personal life, they are also on the mind of managers concerned about the happiness of members of their organization and of governments aiming to promote greater happiness of a greater number of citizens. All these actors might make more informed choices if they could draw on a sound base of evidence. In this paper I take stock of the available evidence and the answers it holds for the four types of questions asked by the three kinds of actors. To do this, I use a large collection of research findings on happiness gathered in the World Database of Happiness, which serves as an online supplement to this paper. The data provide good answers to the questions 1 and 2, but fall short on the questions 3 and 4. Priorities for further research are indicated.
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We invest much in maximising intelligence and we get ever smarter: but does this make us any happier? The relation between intelligence and happiness is explored on two levels, at the micro-level of individuals and at the macro-level of nations. At the micro-level, we looked at the results of 23 studies and found no correlation between IQ and happiness. At the macro-level, we assessed the correlation between average IQ and average happiness in 143 nations and found a strong positive relationship. Together these findings mean that smartness of all pays more than being smarter than others.
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Modern society comes in for a great deal of criticism, such as about increasing individualisation, globalisation and technologisation, which is seen to reduce the quality of life. This claim was investigated in a comparative study of 141 present-day countries. Eight aspects of modernity were considered: industrialisation, size of the service sector, economic freedom, real income per capita, globalisation, level of education, political democracy and urbanisation. Happiness in different countries was measured as the average response to survey questions on life-satisfaction, affect and contentment. Analysis shows that people living in most modern countries are substantially happier than people in the less modern countries are. The patterns are generally linear. In a subset of western nations, greater modernity still goes with greater happiness. Although the advantages of societal modernisation may be finite, modernisation has not yet undermined human happiness.
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INCOME INEQUALITY AND HAPPINESS IN 119 NATIONS All modern nations reduce income differences to some extent, and as a result there is an ongoing discussion about what degree of income inequality is acceptable. In this discussion libertarians oppose egalitarians and a principled consensus between these positions is not possible. Consensus can only be reached on the basis of a consequential ethic and one of these is the ‘greatest happiness principle’. In this paper the utilitarian approach is followed and the relation between income inequality and happiness in 119 nations is considered. Overall happiness is conceptualized as the‘subjective appreciation of life as a whole’ and is measured using responses to survey questions. We considered both average happiness and spread of happiness. We found little relationship between income inequality and average happiness in nations. There was no correlation with average happiness, a slightly positive correlation with average mood and a slightly negative correlation with average contentment. All these correlations became positive when wealth of the nation was controlled. Spread of happiness tended to be larger in income unequal nations, but this effect disappeared when wealth of the nation was controlled. Correlations reflect the balance of positive and negative effects; in the case of average happiness the positive effects prevailed and in the case of spread both effects balanced out. The data do not show a point where the balance shifts
Publisher Summary This chapter discusses the association of income and happiness. The basic data consist of statements by individuals on their subjective happiness, as reported in thirty surveys from 1946 through 1970, covering nineteen countries, including eleven in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Within countries, there is a noticeable positive association between income and happiness—in every single survey, those in the highest status group were happier, on the average, than those in the lowest status group. However, whether any such positive association exists among countries at a given time is uncertain. Certainly, the happiness differences between rich and poor countries that one might expect on the basis of the within-country differences by economic status are not borne out by the international data. Similarly, in the one national time series studied, for the United States since 1946, higher income was not systematically accompanied by greater happiness. As for why national comparisons among countries and over time show an association between income and happiness that is so much weaker than, if not inconsistent with, that shown by within-country comparisons, a Duesenberry-type model, involving relative status considerations as an important determinant of happiness, is suggested.
Utilizing sophisticated methodology and three decades of research by the world's leading expert on happiness, Happiness challenges the present thinking of the causes and consequences of happiness and redefines our modern notions of happiness. shares the results of three decades of research on our notions of happiness covers the most important advances in our understanding of happiness offers readers unparalleled access to the world's leading experts on happiness provides "real world" examples that will resonate with general readers as well as scholars Winner of the 2008 PSP Prose Award for Excellence in Psychology, Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers.
Several theories of happiness hold that happiness will not change in the long run. This claim was tested using the time trend data available in the World Database of Happiness. Series of responses on identical survey questions on happiness were selected with intervals of at least 10 years between them, altogether 199 time series in 67 nations and 1,531 data points. Average happiness in a nation rose in 133 of these series and declined in 66. The ratio of 2.0 is statistically significant. The average yearly rise in happiness on a scale 0–10 is +0.016. At this growth rate, happiness will rise by about 1 point on this scale in 70 years.