Our pursuit of happiness in life, at work, and in relationships is an amorphous thing, ebbing and flowing, caught in the middle between instincts and advice. It's nice when you come across hard data on happiness, as was just published in the 2019 World Happiness Report.

The report just named Finland as the winner of "Happiest Country in the World" for the second year in a row. A two-peat in anything merits further evaluation so I dug into the report to see what's going on. First, I'll share the 6 predictors of happiness the report is based on (which is interesting in and of itself). Then I'll share a key observation.

The six drivers of happiness according to the report are:

  • GDP per capita: think of this as one's purchasing power, a general indicator of access to an economically stable life.
  • Healthy life expectancy: exactly what it sounds like.
  • Generosity: as determined by responses to the question: "Have you donated money to a charity in the past month?"
  • Social support: as determined by responses to the question: "If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help whenever you need them?"
  • Freedom: as determined by responses to the question "Are you satisfied/dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?"
  • Corruption: as determined by responses to the question "Is corruption widespread throughout the government or not?"

Again, just knowing what the predictors for happiness are from such a credible report is insightful enough. I find it even more interesting, however, that what distinguished Finland from every other country was the fact that they ranked in the top 5 of all countries on 3 of these predictors in particular.

1. Social support

Research supporting the importance of having friends and relatives woven into your life couldn't be more abundant, and yet, still, it doesn't come without controversy.

Gallup has been stating for years that those who can answer yes to the following question: "Do you have a best friend at work?" are consistently happier and more deeply engaged at work. They also point out it's the most controversial, debated driver they report upon, by far.

And there's no shortage of studies making the link between friends, family, and happiness, and yet so many continually de-prioritize both.

I fall into this trap, too. I'm closer to the research than most and yet I still have to be very intentional about not getting caught up in the latest dose of striving, earning, proving, and comparing and instead press myself back to what counts.

The point is, don't wait for another report to prove its importance, don't wait for an unfortunate trigger or for "when the time is right". Re-prioritize and reinvest, right now.

2. Freedom

The ability to choose what you do with your life obviously has much to do with the country you live in, its government, and the general associated way of life. But lest we forget, we have the biggest impact on this.

I coach a lot of people seeking to exit corporate life to enter the life of entrepreneurship and monetize their expertise. For many, much of my work is in helping them to get the courage and self-belief that they can make the leap, that they don't have to be afraid, that they aren't victims and can choose the kind of life they want to live.

Fear of failure or fear of criticism or fear of change distorts where the power really lays. We can easily forget that we are the editors of our own life story, and that it's up to us to change the narrative if need be, to write the chapters we want in our life story before "The End".

3. Corruption

While the World Happiness Report narrows corruption to its perceived level of presence in the government, it bleeds over into the culture of how a population approaches the way they live and work. In my book Make It Matter I write about the Components of Corrosion, the things we do at work that can drain the meaning and happiness out of it. As a leader (or co-worker) you can unwittingly do things that:

  • Destroy a sense of certainty (like acting without 100 percent integrity, or being indecisive or inconsistent)
  • Destroy a sense of completion (like creating rework and wasted effort)
  • Destroy a sense of confidence (with overly harsh feedback or emotional overreactions)
  • Destroy a sense of community (like feeding into negativity)

The point is don't underestimate your ability to contribute to happiness by not engaging in corruption of the local kind--in your workplace and life.

So learn from Finland's reign and this Happiness Report. It will lead to you reporting more happiness for yourself.