Overcome the Pressure to Be Happy

Erman Misirlisoy, PhD
5 min readMay 16, 2022
Photo by Hybrid on Unsplash

Happiness is hard work. You might find it in a satisfying career, keeping your body healthy, or connecting with other people, but all of these things require effort and energy. It’s important to pay attention to how your behavior is impacting your happiness so that you can adjust your efforts accordingly. But there’s a point at which this attention can go too far and turn into an unhealthy preoccupation.

New research is studying how social pressures to feel happy impact happiness on a global scale. It’s possible that the happiest countries in the world are also the countries in which people feel most anxious to find happiness. People inevitably compare themselves to others when they judge the quality of their own lives. And if you believe that all of the people around you are happier than you are, you might feel left out or inadequate in some way. In other words, the happiest countries in the world may paradoxically make it more difficult for some people to be happy.

Comic from disappointing.bydesign

The World Happiness Index

The chart below shows the top 19 happiest countries according to the World Happiness Report — a UN initiative that publishes a yearly world ranking of self-reported happiness. Each country’s overall score is based on a survey question in the Gallup World Poll that asks people to rate their lives from 0 (“worst possible life”) to 10 (“best possible life”). Roughly 1000 people across 149 countries complete the survey each year:

World Happiness Index chart from the 2021 World Happiness Report

The total length of each country’s bar in the chart reflects their happiness score. Finland comes out on top while the US and UK just about make the top 20. The segments within each bar show how much of each country’s total happiness score researchers could attribute to six important variables: GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, personal freedoms, generosity, and corruption. Population economics and supportive networks of friends and family predict a substantial portion of a country’s happiness score.

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Erman Misirlisoy, PhD

Research Leader (Ex-Instagram / Chief Scientist at multiple startups). Author of the User Insight Newsletter: https://userinsight.substack.com/