How many of us are happy – or claim to be happy? The counterintuitive conclusion of a poll of 19000 adults in 24 countries, recently reported in the Economist, reveals that some 77 % residents report that they are happy, up 3 points on 2007, the last year before the crisis. Despite global economic gloom, the world is a happier place to be: 22 % describe themselves as very happy. Even better: 28 % of Australian and Americans say they are very happy. Interestingly, the share of very happy people has increased six points in Japan, defying tsunami and nuclear accidents. Obviously, perceived happiness depends on a lot more than material welfare. The highest levels of self-reported happiness are not found in rich countries, as one would expect, but in poor and middle-income ones, e.g. Indonesia, India and Mexico. According to the Economist, the biggest falls in happiness occurred in large emerging markets, in Russia; described as perennial misery guts (i.e. always unhappy and also tries to make others feel negative).

Many leaders have discussed how to handle the challenges for Europe’s gloomy residents during the current euro-crisis. Interestingly, both France and UK have set up projects to study “gross national happiness”. But what is happiness, actually, in a national perspective? It doesn’t seem like an easy project to carry out. The findings will certainly be interesting when they are available.

People dedicated to study the parameters involved in happiness say that it is not a sum of happy moments; it is more related to a specific lifestyle, a way of looking at life in general. A recent report from Denmark indicates that vegetarians are happier than non-vegetarians. A hypothetical question might be: would Europeans be less gloomy if there were more vegetarians?

Less hypothetical, based on decades of experience with Acem Meditation: a sense of well-being is commonly developed fairly quickly when one learns to meditate. Furthermore, a steady meditation practice over time may develop a deeper sense of being content, which is different from peak experiences, excitement and fairy-tale like emotions. The feeling of being more content may become more deeply rooted in our mind, as a very welcome result of steady meditation practice. It is a calm experience happiness from sources within ourselves which don’t depend on continuous new input of excitement. The experience may be associated with a deep, stable sense of satisfaction with life, which doesn’t change from moment to moment. It makes us less dependent on constant action and that something new must happen.