How happy are we? Kindness shows

Neil Snarr - Contributing columnist

For 10 years now the United Nations has conducted a world survey called the World Happiness Report, a survey distributed to people who live in more than 150 countries worldwide. The purpose of the report is to evaluate how people feel across the globe, including trends over time.

This short report from the survey which was recently released starts off with the question, “Which country in the world is the happiest?” They answer this by asking thousands and thousands of people across the world: “Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you personally feel you stand at this time?”

The country in the world which is the happiest is Finland. In parentheses they note, “No surprise given their social system that buffers shocks, like a pandemic.” And, this is the fifth year in a row that Finland has occupied this top spot.

Interestingly the U.S. has improved its position from 19th to 16th during the pandemic.

The 10 countries that show the largest gains in happiness since 2008 are Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Togo, Bahrain, Latvia, Benin, Guinea, and Armenia. (I can’t make sense of this!)

Beyond the above, the study measures positive and negative emotions to determine “life evaluations” – the net balance between the two. Positive emotions are measured by enjoyment, laughter, and learning/doing something interesting. Overall, positive emotions are twice as frequent as negative ones which are measured by sadness, anger, and worry.

The writers of the report assume that the pandemic would be a major source of change, and in 2020 the negative emotions were 8 percent higher than previously. In 2021 the average fell back to the pre-covid levels.

Interestingly, in 2021, laughing and enjoyment slightly decreased, “but learning/doing something interestingly significantly increased.” This is why the authors note a global surge in benevolence.

Following this surge, an increase in kindness measured by donations, volunteering and helping strangers improved in every region of the globe.

By 2021 all three types of kindness had increased an average of 25 percent. As an example of this the authors point out that Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand reported a ‘ridiculous increase’ in generosity after decreasing for years.

The authors of this book length report conclude: “While the SAR-CoV-2 created the biggest health crisis of the century, a global wave of benevolence follows in its wake. Not just in the early phase of the pandemic, but thereafter. Simply put, in times of crisis people step up. Some acts of kindness are news worthy but millions are boring and unheralded acts in the background: Checking on neighbors, volunteering for clinical trials, sewing masks for coworkers, easing isolation through Zoom.

“We need to grieve and countries need to learn from their pandemic mistakes, but we cannot lose sight of the onslaught of kindness and the number of helpers the pandemic also brought forth.”

Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.

Neil Snarr

Contributing columnist