Surprising Happiness Facts

What if I told you that people in war-torn Afghanistan are probably happier than you are? And that the same might be true for Russians living in areas of high unemployment? And would you believe me if I said that your 76-year old aunt Doris, with her small pension and tiny living quarters, is probably much happier than you are?

Chances are you’d tell me to quit the nonsense and maybe even unsubscribe yourself from this blog.

But the highly respected Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. has made it her business to study happiness around the world and the above are some of her findings.

Amongst her most intriguing finding are the following two: first, people are remarkable at adapting to extreme adversity and maintaining their natural cheerfulness. Indeed, respondents in Afghanistan, where poverty resembles that of sub-Saharan Africa are happier than the world average, and Russians living in contexts of high unemployment are happier than the average Russian.

Graham’s research revealed that people can adapt to tremendous adversity and retain their cheerfulness, or they can have virtually everything — including good health — and be miserable. She found that a critical factor that people have a hard time adapting to is uncertainty. Thus, in the USA during the 2008 economic crises, while the Dow Jones had a free-fall, happiness levels suffered a parallel fall. But when the market stopped falling and some stability was restored in March, average happiness recovered much faster than the Dow, despite the fact that people had to make do with less income or wealth.

And here’s the second and really striking finding: age and happiness have a consistent U-shaped relationship, with the turning point in the mid- to late-40s, when happiness begins to increase (as long as health and domestic partnerships stay sound). I.e. your happiness level decreases from the age of 18, reaching its lowest point somewhere in your mid-forties. And from there, it only gets better and better!

So what does all this mean from an organizational perspective? Here are two tiny nuggets to consider. First, as much as possible, try eliminating unnecessary uncertainty. And then, make sure to have lots of younger folks and older folks on your payroll. After all, they’re likely to be happier and just might spread that around!

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