Temple trip 2006 012

In yesterday’s post, we examined some of the key factors and characteristics that need to be in place if you want to be happy. I noted that while money doesn’t buy happiness directly, financial security is a prerequisite for happiness in the modern world. If you’re always worried about money, you’re going to be pretty miserable. Of course, wealth and income are just one part of the puzzle. There’s more to it and research by professor Ruut Veenhoven of Erasmus University in the Netherlands (he’s also the director of the World Database of Happiness) confirms several of my highly unscientific ponderings.

I came across this information while reading The Science of You, the same book where I extracted the Maia Szalavitz quote on empathy. In the article written by Bryan Walsh, we are told about some “happiness studies” by Veenhoven and the results are quite telling.

Indeed, having a lot of money doesn’t necessarily make you happy, but you do need to have a minimum level in place to take care of basic needs. That number, as determined by Veenhoven, is an annual income of right around $10,000. Beyond that threshold, “money and happiness decouple.” More money doesn’t necessarily equal more happiness.

Consider this. Japan and South Korea are among the richest nations in the world and they’re absolute leaders in the tech industry. However, the self-reported levels of happiness in these countries is relatively low. Why? Some have said it is due to the longer working hours and the elevated levels of stress associated with working so much. That sure sounds like the point I made about pressure, don’t you think?

On the flip side, the people of Costa Rica rank among the happiest in the world, despite the fact that their per capita income is a mere $11,900. It is hypothesized that this is because families in Costa Rica tend to be large and close-knit. Extended families forge very powerful bonds and they support one another in a profound way. Researchers observed a similar trend in other Latin American countries. I’d say that sounds like my point about loving others and being loved.

But why are Scandinavian countries always so happy too? Could it be because of the Law of Jante? Partly. Because countries like Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway have such extensive social programs, inequality is kept at a relative minimum. Everyone is roughly middle class and there is far less “keeping up with the Joneses” than you may find in other parts of Europe, as well as in Canada, the US and so on.

The constant desire to keep up with and to show off to your peers is a great source of stress. When that pressure is removed, happiness is a lot easier to attain.

So, what’s the take home lesson here? Have “enough” money, minimize stress, love your family and forget about keeping up with your neighbors. Value what is truly valuable, treasure life’s gifts, and happiness will be within reach.