This is the 7th World Happiness Report. The first was released in April 2012 in support of a UN High level meeting on “Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm”. That report presented the available global data on national happiness and reviewed related evidence from the emerging science of happiness, showing that the quality of people’s lives can be coherently, reliably, and validly assessed by a variety of subjective well-being measures, collectively referred to then and in subsequent reports as “happiness.” Each report includes updated evaluations and a range of commissioned chapters on special topics digging deeper into the science of well-being, and on happiness in specific countries and regions. Often there is a central theme. This year we focus on happiness and community: how happiness has been changing over the past dozen years, and how information technology, governance and social norms influence communities.
The world is a rapidly changing place. Among the fastest changing aspects are those relating to how people communicate and interact with each other, whether in their schools and workplaces, their neighbourhoods, or in far-flung parts of the world. In last year’s report, we studied migration as one important source of global change, finding that each country’s life circumstances, including the social context and political institutions were such important sources of happiness that the international ranking of migrant happiness was almost identical to that of the native born. This evidence made a powerful case that the large international differences in life evaluations are driven by the differences in how people connect with each other and with their shared institutions and social norms.
This year after presenting our usual country rankings of life evaluations, and tracing the evolution since 2005 of life evaluations, positive affect, negative affect, and our six key explanatory factors, we consider more broadly some of the main forces that influence happiness by changing the ways in which communities and their members interact with each other. We deal with three sets of factors:
- links between government and happiness (Chapters 2 and 3),
- the power of prosocial behaviour (Chapter 4), and
- changes in information technology (Chapters 5-7).
Chapter 2 examines empirical linkages between a number of national measures of the quality of government and national average happiness. Chapter 3 reverses the direction of causality, and asks how the happiness of citizens affects whether and how people participate in voting.
The second special topic, covered in Chapter 4, is generosity and pro-social behaviour, important because of its power to demonstrate and creation communities that are happy places to live.
The third topic, covered by three chapters, is information technology. Chapter 5 discusses the happiness effects of digital technology use, Chapter 6 deals with big data, while Chapter 7 describes an epidemic of mass addictions in the United States, expanding on the evidence presented in Chapter 5.