The latest World Happiness Report is out and the country I call home, Switzerland, is number one for happiness. I didn't get a chance to read it the day it came out because I was too busy yodeling, eating chocolate and skiing down the alps to have time to read.
Okay, I was eating chocolate, but I don't ski and I wish I could yodel, but, alas, it's not my talent. None of those things were taken into consideration in the report either. Instead, the factors that are used to determine happiness are as follows:
- Healthy years of life expectancy.
- Availability of social support.
- Generosity (i.e. how many people have donated to charity in the last month).
- Perceptions of corruption in government and business.
- Individuals' perceptions of their personal freedoms.
I'm not sure how this translates directly into happiness, but we'll use their terminology and assume that these things really do indicate happiness. How can you increase all of these in your own life without packing up and moving? (Although, if you choose to pursue life in Switzerland, you'll find a robust international community so you'll fit right in.)
Income: Swiss income is high. Swiss taxes aren't as bad as the neighboring countries because health care is private, not single payer. Costs are high, too, though. (If you want "cheap" raw hamburger, expect to pay about $10 a pound.) But, you can raise your income through a number of ways--work more hours, learn a skill that pays more than your current skill set, or focus on a career that pays more than one that fills your passions. The Swiss also have a pension system that is similar to the US 401k plan--it follows you from company to company. So, maximize your 401k or IRA or whatever plan you have.
Health. The Swiss love to hike, but they also do something called "wandern" which is like hiking, but a bit close to the English word for "wandering." It's not strenuous, fight your way up the mountain kind of hiking. It's more wandering through the hills and forests. The Swiss also believe bicycles are a legitimate form of transportation--not just for fun--and that only completely crazy people drive their kids to school. Increase the amount of time you spend outdoors. Skip the stress of the drop-off and pick-up line and school and make the little darlings walk. Doing these healthy activities leads towards a longer life span.
Availability of social support. The authors of this study defined this as "having someone to count on in times of trouble." The Swiss make friends for life. Frequently, they stay in the same town they grew up in. The result is lots of social support. But what if you're new? The Swiss love clubs. So, you can join one and make friends there. What can you do? Focus some time and effort on making friends. Join a club. Get to know your neighbors. Join a church. Keep in contact with your old friends. Make a real effort to maintain those social circles and support others so that you'll have support when you need it.
Generosity. This one is easy to adopt--open up your wallet and give something to someone who needs help. You can either hand a few dollars to someone down on their luck or give to a charity. Giving makes you happier.
Perceptions of corruption in government and business. This one and the last one are a little harder to do on your own. It's hard for the Swiss government to get too corrupted because the government just doesn't have a huge amount of power--almost everything is voted on directly by the people. Now, don't get me wrong--the Swiss have had their fair share of banking scandals--but overall, the voice of the people keeps the politicians from becoming all powerful. What can you do? Consider strongly who you vote for. Don't vote for the person who promises you the world--instead, vote for the person who will make all of society better off.
Individuals' perception of their personal freedom. Just how free are you? The Swiss see direct democracy in their own lives, making personal freedom obvious. But, even if you don't see yourself having political freedom, you can take charge of your life in many other ways. Get out of debt--debt is bondage. Give up bad habits, like smoking, that bind you down. If you have toxic people, including a toxic boss or coworker, get rid of them. Don't worry about things that aren't your problems to fix, and fix the things that are your problems. You'll be amazed at how much more freedom you have when you're willing to take control.
Eat some chocolate. While this wasn't on the list, it certainly won't hurt. Buying a fancy watch is optional.