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How happy are we? Australia's happiness index

5 minute read
Three women sitting on towels at the beach

Some people describe happiness as seeing their children smile. To others, it’s a house full of cats. Others refer to it as a room without a roof (looking at you, Pharrell). Whatever happiness is to you, it seems Australians need more of it if the World Happiness Report is anything to go by.

No longer just a word on the front of a greeting card, ‘happy’ is now considered an important metric by the United Nations – and governments are paying attention. Given the role governments play in impacting happiness on an individual and community level – after all, their policies impact health care, employment, leisure opportunities and public safety, among other key variables essential to wellbeing – they’re now studying what’s working, and what needs work.

What is the World Happiness Report?

The World Happiness Report ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be and its findings are based on individual ratings across six factors central to wellbeing. The study asks respondents to self-report happiness levels from one to 10 across income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom, and trust (measured by the absence of corruption in business and government). The countries topping the list had unsurprisingly high scores across all six variables.

It’s compiled and published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and along with the index, the report contains expert-authored chapters which look into happiness-related issues – think mental illness, the objective benefits of happiness, the importance of ethics and policy implications. The purpose of the report is to encourage governments to create policies that support the happiness of their citizens and it works alongside documents and research produced by international bodies including the Global Happiness Council.

This year’s World Happiness Report focuses on happiness and the community, looking at how happiness has evolved over the past dozen years, with a focus on the technologies, social norms, conflicts and government policies that have driven those changes.

Two women in a public swimming pool wearing swimming caps

How happy is Australia?

Sitting in 11th place, Australia has moved down two places since 2016, so it appears we could use some improvement. On the scale of zero to 10 (zero being the unhappiest, 10 being the happiest), Australia scored a 7.23. Over the span of 2013 to today, we peaked in 2013 at 7.35, with an average over the six years of 7.29. The ten countries topping the list this year are:

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Norway
  4. Iceland
  5. Netherlands
  6. Switzerland
  7. Sweden
  8. New Zealand
  9. Canada
  10. Austria

Tips to improve happiness

The biggest predictor of happiness is the quality of our relationships, says clinical psychotherapist Natajsa Wagner. She reiterates that quality, not quantity is the key – how valued, safe and connected we feel, and if there is reciprocity (a balance of give and take in the relationship). She adds economists have put price tags on our social relationships and found an increase in happiness attached the following values:

  • Volunteering is equivalent to adding $50,000 to your balance.
  • Seeing a friend ‘most days’ is equivalent to adding $100,000 to your balance.
  • Losing an important relationship is equivalent to losing $90,000.

Aside from putting time into our relationships with others (and prioritising good relationships over those that leave us drained), here are other ways to keep your happiness in balance:

  • Help others
    Stats and studies show altruism, or helping others, triggers happiness and sparks the same parts of the brain as sex and good food. In fact, researchers from Harvard University showed those who gave contributions of time or money were “42 percent more likely to be happy” than those who did not. Bonus points for choosing a task or charity meaningful to you, or engaging skills you enjoy using – for example, cooking or spending time with animals.

  • Get enough exercise
    Vigorous physical exercise releases endorphins and serotonin – both ‘happy hormones’. Get out into the fresh air with a hike or walk alongside water and get an additional buzz from the fresh air and nature.

  • Do something you enjoy on a regular basis
    Be it artistic, physical, or even more sedate pursuits. Research shows that people with hobbies are less likely to suffer from stress, low mood, and depression. A study from the Australian Psychological Society recently found four out of five participants reported listening to music or spending time on a hobby was effective in reducing stress.

  • Get enough sleep
    Research suggests those that sleep well have a more positive outlook on life.

For some of us, increasing our happiness is harder than being in an aforementioned house of felines and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. If ‘getting happy’ is hard for you or you’re feeling stuck, make an appointment with your GP for advice. At nib, we have a number of covers that provide benefits for psychology and we also offer eligible members access to our Mindstep program – a six-week phone-based mental health program that includes one-on-one coaching and practical tips.

For more information head to our health management programs page or fill out our online enquiry form and we’ll be in touch to discuss your situation.

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