Happiness in times of crises

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.


  1. Kaif

    Thought provoking. I wonder what the Buddha would say to those statistics, since the first words he uttered when he started to teach were, apparently, “all is suffering”, or to be precise “all is unsatisfactory”.

    It would also be interesting to know how happiness was defined in the questionnaires, if it was defined. As you indicate in the last paragraph, happiness may mean different things.

  2. Halvor

    There are so many different questions one could ask about this. Is happiness a momentary mood? A long-term sense of satisfaction only vaguely related to your momentary mood? A sense of deeper meaning? A sense of being part of something larger than oneself? Absence of depression or sadness or pain or boredom or other unpleasant feelings? Etc. etc.

    Countries like UK, France and China try to focus on measures of happiness when they’re afraid that economic growth will not continue to boost the image of the current leadership.

    Beijing resident Chan Koochung 陈冠中 (born in Hong Kong) has written a fun and thought-provoking novel about China in 2013, Fat Years, where everybody is happy because the authorities have put a variant of ecstasy in the drinking water. In his novel, however, this kind of “happiness” is combined with China’s economic growth, at a time when the rest of the world has slumped into recession (quite prophetic, since the novel was published in 2009).

  3. Happiness researchers seem to be converging on the idea that every person has a kind of happiness set-point. Life events, the state of the body, and other factors can temporarily raise or lower your happiness, but then you return to your innate set-point. I think meditation may be a means to raising your happiness set-point. You may be interested in this article about a simple meditation to decrease stress and increase happiness for beginners:


  4. I am in the middle of a horrendous life crisis. It might end tomorrow or next week or maybe it will go on forever in a kind of chronic crisis state. Such a thing? The only way I feel I can survive is to meditate. I wonder what happiness is? But when I meditate I have a sense of peace and clarity. I am not in the crisis anymore. And that makes me happy.

  5. Gunnar

    Often they separate life satisfaction (a cognitive value of life) and subjective well being (a momentary emotionell impression). The correlation between theese is just about 0,5-0,7 witch mean that you can for the most part be emotionally happy even when you value the sircumstance in your life as low (not happy).

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