Let’s Get Happy: The Science of Happiness and the 2021 Happiness Report


Hello, Planet Earth. It seems like you have a lot on your plate right now. How are you doing?

Years ago, I was on the phone with a friend who was going through a hard time. I said to them, “Wow. It seems like you have a lot on your plate right now. How are you doing?” And they replied with something I’ll never forget: “I do. Thank you for recognizing that.”

Sometimes, all we need is for someone to simply acknowledge that we’re going through a tough time. That convo with my friend has shaped how I communicate with people who are stressed, overworked, depressed, or handling so many things that they feel overwhelmed. When it rains it pours, and though there’s not always something we can actually DO to help a friend or a colleague, just being there for them, feeling with them and not for them, is important (source). This is called empathy. So, let’s start our discussion from this place of recognizing where we are and being empathetic.

The laundry list of chaos over the last 12 months could be rehashed here, but we all know what’s going on in the world and our personal lives, so there’s no need to reiterate what’s all over the news. Instead, let’s focus on overcoming that chaos and focus on bringing more happiness into our lives and inspiring others to do the same.

(Start Singing “Walking on Sunshine” now. In your head or out loud. But start singing it, because science has proven that “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina & The Waves is one of the top 10 Happiest Songs Ever!)

It’s springtime and we are presented with a fresh new chance to live our best lives and be happy! Let’s start by breaking this down and then I’ll share some more happiness-inducing recommendations for everyone.

What is happiness?

The term happiness is used in the context of mental or emotional states, including positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. It is also used in the context of life satisfaction, subjective well-being, eudaimonia, flourishing and well-being (source).

Did you know happiness can be measured by science?

There’s LOTS of science on happiness. Click here to see some of the ways it’s measured. Suffice to say, there are a lot of theories on what happiness actually is, though as humans we know when we’re happy and when we’re not. But it’s harder to pinpoint scientifically. Debates on this sometimes say happiness is linked to heredity, some to how things and people look, some to self-control, and some to how productive we’re being and how well the government is working.

Did You know there’s an annual global report that tells us which countries are the happiest?

Starting in 2012, The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) at Columbia University began releasing The World Happiness Report. The 2021 report was published on Friday, March 19th 2021 and the full report can be accessed hereChapter 2 breaks down the happiness ranking according to country and for the fourth year in a row, Finland holds the rank of the happiest country in the world. Bravo, Finland. You’ll be receiving my residency application in the mail on Monday.

#1 Finland is followed by #2 Denmark (3rd in 2020), #3 Switzerland (4th in 2020), #4 Iceland (2nd in 2020), #5 Netherlands (5th in 2020), #6 Norway (8th in 2020), #7 Sweden (6th in 2020), #8 Luxembourg (making its debut on the list), #9 New Zealand (9th in 2020), then #10 Austria (10th in 2020) to make up the Top 10.

If living abroad isn’t in the cards for you, there are other things you can do to be happy, according to the internet. A quick Google search will return over 5.1 Billion hits in .49 seconds on the matter of “how to be happy.” Here are a few to peruse:

Pretty much all of the lists tell us to put down our phone (yah, not gonna do that…), exercise (note to self: actually give this one a shot…), smile (wow! That one is easy!), and this one is my favorite: practice optimism (YAS, Queen!).

While the jury is still out on whether or not money makes us happy, there are a ton of studies on the benefits of happiness which impact your diet, sleeping patterns, immune system, stress levels, and overall well-being (source).

Here’s one thing about happiness that all of these lists seem to miss though: Humans are pack animals. We learned to yawn to show empathy. We need to be around others to live our best lives. And sharing the human experience can boost happiness too. Laughing, crying, feeling, relating, sharing, caring…all of these things lead to joy.

So, while science is still working out the machinations of happiness, I’d like to suggest adding a feel-good film to your day. Being part of the roller coaster of the human experience can do us all some good. It’s scientific.

Here are some great options that are sure to make you just a little bit happier:

1. Wish Man

Based on the true story of Frank Shankwitz, a founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. A motorcycle cop makes a dying boy’s last wish come true.

Why Watch: Proof that happiness is something we can pay forward to cause a ripple effect in the world.

2. The Healer

A young man discovers he has the family gift of healing. A teenage girl with terminal cancer shows him how to help others and believe in himself.

Why Watch: Sometimes we just need a little push to be our best selves.

3. Anything is Possible

Young piano prodigy Nathan runs away from home, then becomes the star attraction at a benefit concert and realizes that anything is possible.

Why Watch: Evidence that we can make it through the hard times and find joy.

4. More Beautiful for Having Been Broken

An FBI agent struggling with the loss of her mother is befriended by a special needs boy who heals others through his unique outlook.

Why Watch: Happiness and love are all around us in this big beautiful world.

5. About Hope

After finally meeting “Mrs. Right,” a man tempted by wealth and fame learns that it’s not only true love that makes us whole.

Why Watch: Being true to yourself and who you are will bring you joy.

6. Liza, Liza Skies Are Grey

In a world filled with war, fear, and change, a hopeful young couple takes a motorcycle trip up the California coast in the summer of ‘66.

Why Watch: The simplicity of youth, a reminder of your first love, and freedom.

7. My Secret Billionaire

A handsome billionaire disguised as a regular guy falls in love with a regular gal and finds that true love is something money can’t buy.

Why Watch: Money can buy you a jet ski but it can’t buy you love, baby.

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  1. Wow! Excellent article and one I will refer back to when I am in a slump or having one of those ‘poor, pitiful me’ moments. Thank you for the movie recommendations as well. They will definitely added to my to watch list.

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