Follow along with the transcript below for episode: What We Learned from the World Happiness Report with Deborah K. Heisz
[00:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for episode 410 of Live Happy Now. Is it just my imagination? Or is the world getting happier? I’m your host, Paula Felps. This week, I’m sitting down with Live Happy Co-Founder and CEO, Deborah Heisz, to talk about how we’re doing when it comes to happiness.
Every year on the International Day of Happiness, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network releases its World Happiness Report. Deb’s here to talk with me about some of her takeaways from this year’s report and why it appears that our happiness is improving. Let’s have a listen.
[00:00:38] PF: Deb, thank you for taking time from down under to come on and talk to me about the World Happiness Report.
[00:00:44] DB: I am actually excited to be able to do this. This comes out every year on the International Day of Happiness. I had a weird experience this year, Paula.
[00:00:52] PF: I love this.
[00:00:52] DB: I got on an airplane. I got on an airplane on the 19th of March, and I got off the airplane on the 21st of March because of the timezone changes. So I actually missed the entire International Day of Happiness because I was on a flight to Australia this year. So this is my way of celebrating.
[00:01:07] PF: That’s so funny. Yes. Because we were talking about that I was in Dallas with the rest of the Live Happy team, and we were talking about the irony of Deb Heisz missing the Day of Happiness, not just not being able to participate. I mean, completely missing that day.
[00:01:23] DB: I had no International Day of Happiness. So talking to you today about the World Happiness Report is my way of celebrating the International Day of Happiness. I’m super excited about it.
[00:01:32] PF: This report we really waited for every year. It’s something that, I guess, we’re a little bit of happiness geeks, and it’s very exciting to us to be able to sit down, see what’s going on. This year’s report, it’s the 11th year of the report. It’s really showing that even though we had some really tough years, the last three years have been tough on us. But around the world, people are showing a remarkable amount of resilience.
I think what struck me so much of the news, and we’ve had so many discussions about it too, is about how anxiety and depression have really increased during the pandemic and since then. So honestly, I was surprised to see how well we’re doing. I wanted to get your takeaway on that.
[00:02:14] DB: So, Paula, I do think that there is an increase in anxiety and depression. I think, well, number one, we hear a lot about it because the news focuses on it. News is always negative, always the negative outcomes of things. But I also think if you look at various groups, the lack of social interaction, we know how important relationships are to overall happiness, the Harvard study that’s been going on where they talked about how relationships are really the most important thing.
But when people are isolated and they aren’t able to get together, of course, it fed their anxiety and depression. If you look at young people, people who missed their high school graduations or their proms or had to start university classes in their house and their mom’s office because universities weren’t doing in-person classes, of course, there’s more anxiety and depression, and the world’s changed a little bit.
But we have to remind ourselves that isn’t really what the Happiness Report is about. It isn’t really what happiness overall is about. It’s about overall well-being. Particularly, the Happiness Report is about population’s well-being. There’s a lot of things that changed during the pandemic, that I’m not surprised that we’re resilient. People went to the office less. People spent less time in traffic as a result.
[00:03:25] PF: That will cheer you up right there.
[00:03:27] DB: Absolutely. There are definitely some positive outcomes. But, really, when we’re talking about happiness, we aren’t talking about this essentially an absence of anxiety and depression. We’re talking about overall well-being. Are you living the life you’re meant to live? Of course, we hope that comes with less of those negative things. Really, when you’re talking about it as a population or as about a community, it’s very different than on an individual basis. So I don’t find those two things to be in contrast.
[00:03:54] PF: Can you talk about that a little bit more? Because the happiness that people think about, typically, is a lot different than what we often talk about when we are talking about well-being.
[00:04:05] DB: So I think a lot of people are short-term outcome-based in a lot of things. They think about, “Oh, if I get that, I’m going to be happy,” or, “When that happens, I’m going to be happy.” Then they define happiness. It’s things like, “I went to that concert last night, and I got to see Taylor Swift, and that was my lifelong dream, and I’m so happy.” That’s fleeting because the next day you go back to the office, you go back to the classroom, and you’re right back in whatever your life was like. That gave you a momentary pleasure. You know what they call hedonic happiness, really, where you have this momentary pleasure that brings you excitement and elevates your oxytocin and you feel good about it.
That’s not what we talk about when we talk about happiness. The type of happiness we talk about is typically called eudaimonic happiness. Not typically called, but I know people that study it that know those big words.
[00:04:57] PF: Those science-brained people.
[00:04:59] DB: Yes, those science-brained. Not us right-brained creative types, but those science-brained types. Yes. So what they’re really talking about is are you living a happy life. Does your life have the meaning that you expect? Are you congruent in what you’re doing? Or is your overall well-being happy? That’s really what they’re talking about. They’re not talking about this fleeting emotion. We don’t tend to talk about that because that’s momentary. What you really want is a life that you feel like is well-lived.
The best way I’ve heard this described is – well, I’m going to use two definitions. Number one is the definition that I’ve heard Shawn Achor use, and I think he’s gotten this from Martin Seligman. But what we’re talking about is the happiness that you feel when you’re striving towards your potential, which, to me, describes fulfillment.
Then the other way I’ve heard it described is when you get to the end of your life, are you going to look back and say, “Did I live a happy life?” That’s the life we’re talking about. That’s what we mean by happiness.
[00:06:00] PF: Right, right. Not that day in, day out because we all have up and down. We have good days and bad days, and it doesn’t mean we’re unhappy if we’re having a bad day.
[00:06:10] DB: Well, bad things happen to all of us. I mean, no one goes through life without bad things happening to them. No one expects you to be happy in the traditional way you think about it, the hedonic way you think about it, when you’re attending a funeral, right?
[00:06:22] PF: Right, right.
[00:06:24] DB: We all have negative things that happen. We all lose. Well, those of us who are dog lovers, we all lose pets. We all have challenges in our lives. Some are huge, and some are not huge. But it doesn’t mean you’re happy in the hedonic sense every day. But it means that you’re living the life you’re supposed to live.
[00:06:43] PF: Right. Do you think the pandemic actually helped us become more aware of that? Because I hear people expressing gratitude more and being more aware of just the fact like, “Oh, my gosh. I can get out, and I can be around people, and I can do all these things.” So do you think that has helped made us more content?
[00:07:01] DB: I have an interesting way I’ve started thinking about the pandemic, and I’m going to use the words the great timeout, right?
[00:07:08] PF: Oh, I don’t know that. You should trademark that.
[00:07:11] DB: Maybe I should. Maybe we should cut it from the podcast, so I can trademark it later. The pandemic was the great timeout. You know I’m a sports fanatic, right?
[00:07:21] PF: Yes.
[00:07:22] DB: But I have my children playing sports. So they’re very into ice hockey. Well, my older two are. So the coaches emphasize that ice hockey is kind of a year-round sport. But one of their coaches emphasizes, “I want you not to do anything hockey-related for two weeks. It’s the great timeout so that you can evaluate what it is that you need to work on, what it is that you want to change.”
I think if you look at the pandemic as this great timeout, it allowed people to re-examine how they had been spending their time, reexamine what they had been doing with their time. Yes, they were missing a lot of those things. But I think there’s a lot of those things they weren’t missing. It allowed them to look at what impact they were having what they really wanted out of life in a way that for generations probably had not presented itself.
[00:08:19] PF: I’ll be right back with more of my conversation with Deborah Heisz about the World Happiness Report. But right now, it’s time to bring back Kate Vastano to talk about the adventures of Kittles. Kate, welcome back.
[00:08:31] KV: Thank you, Paula.
[00:08:32] PF: Well, as we told listeners last week, we hook Kittles up with a gorgeous cat tree from Mau Pets. So how’s he like it?
[00:08:39] KV: He absolutely loves it. We’ve had other cat trees before where he’s kind of lost interest after a couple days, wasn’t super into them. He loves snuggling in the thing, and it is his favorite.
[00:08:51] PF: I love hearing that. So what do you love most about it?
[00:08:54] KV: Oh, I love, first of all, the design. But I also love that it’s made from sustainably sourced wood and has natural wood branches. So it doesn’t look manufactured. It doesn’t look like something you’d buy at like a generic pet store. Plus, all the parts are replaceable. So if something happens, it’s easy to swap them out. As you know, I have three kids, two large dogs, and a cat. So our house is crazy sometimes, and I know it’s a matter of time before something gets broken. Or a kid climbs into it and breaks it. I love that there’s a replacement aspect to it as well. It’s not one of those ugly-looking ones that you want to tuck away somewhere. It literally looks like something you’d find in a museum. It’s so beautiful and modern-looking.
[00:09:33] PF: If you’re ready to upgrade your pet’s furniture, visit maupets.com. That’s M-A-Upets.com and use the code Live Happy Now to get a five percent discount. Now, let’s get back to my conversation with Deborah Heisz.
There’s one chapter that we both really like. Not that we didn’t like the rest of the report but chapter four. Just to be clear, chapter four talked about altruism and how practicing kindness not only has it increased. But we’ve done just become more aware of the need for it. Obviously, that’s something we at Live Happy have been talking about our entire existence, volunteering, donating to charities, helping others, and how good it is for you.
Now, this behavior has increased. Do you feel like that is tied back to the fact that we weren’t able to do it for a couple of years?
[00:10:25] DB: Yes and no. I don’t know that it’s that we weren’t able to do it for a couple of years, as much as it was, I think, when we started to recognize the need to give back in ourselves. Because we talk a lot about gratitude, about being thankful. Well, when somebody does something for you, and you’re grateful. But part of that is the joy of giving. It really is people that rediscovered, okay, they had a little bit of loneliness. They had a little bit of – I think. This is what I believe. They had a little bit of loneliness. They had a little bit of extra free time. They wanted to do something to improve the world. The way they do that is by giving back.
You see this a lot in young people, their overarching drive to make the world a better place. I think more people, because of the pandemic, they created an awareness in them that they needed to be doing something. Or they felt like they should be doing something. We don’t want to ‘should’ all over everybody. You’ve heard that phrase before. But they wanted to do something to make the world better because it did create a lot of anxiety. It did create a lot of uncertainty about the future.
I think in that uncertainty, a lot of people found solace and a place of belonging in giving back to the world around them. I also think, in some ways, it really highlighted need in a way that when you’re in the car an extra two hours a day, you might have missed a little bit.
[00:11:48] PF: Yes, that makes perfect sense. Of course, we don’t have crystal balls. But do you think this pro-social behavior is going to continue increasing? Is this something that we overall are learning? Hey, not only is this good for my fellow man. It’s good for me. What are your thoughts on that?
[00:12:06] DB: I think a lot of this – I have kids, right? So Generation Z and beyond. I really think that that generation is more pro giving back, more pro-environmentalism, more aware of the economic disparity and resolving that for people. I think that they are more – so I think that because that generation will lead in the future, which always happens. The younger generation ends up leading. I think it will be there.
Or more immediately, I think that people have gotten a great benefit from doing more for their fellow man. I mean, we talk about this all the time. You said we’ve talked about this from the beginning of Live Happy. Yes, the person you did something for is appreciative, and you’ve done something to share with somebody. But when you go do something like donate blood, which is on the up, by the way, more people are donating blood and things like that, you don’t get an immediate impact on who did you help, right? But it helps you. You get an oxytocin boost. You get a sense of accomplishment. You get something out of doing that charitable activity, whatever it is, even if you don’t interact with the person who ultimately benefits.
So, yes, handing somebody Christmas presents at Christmas time, which is a big deal in the United States. We do all these Christmas tree angel drives, and you can meet at a church, and you get to and stuff out there or Thanksgiving dinners and things like that. I volunteered at a lot of turkey dinner giveaways, that sort of thing. Yes, it’s great to be able to give something to somebody and see them, their thankfulness. But a lot of the giving we’re doing, you don’t ever meet the beneficiary. But you get the positive impact of it. I think as people recognize that it makes them feel good, we’re going to continue to see more of that.
[00:13:55] PF: I love that because you know I’ve talked about that, like I said, for years about how – if people would catch on to how good it feels to make others’ lives better, people would really be jumping on that bandwagon. Something that I found surprising in this report, I guess I had never even thought about it. But it said that science shows that even watching someone perform an altruistic act, watching them do something for someone else can boost your happiness. Then it’ll encourage them to do their own act of kindness.
I didn’t even think about that. So from a science standpoint, you are great at the science of this. It’s like why. Why does just watching someone do something for someone else give us that same hit?
[00:14:39] DB: Well, I’d like to equate it with this is an unscientific answer, Paula. But I like –
[00:14:43] PF: Are you going to say it’s like a contact high because we can’t use that?
[00:14:46] DB: Well, yes, a little bit. But I’m going to say it’s kind of like when you go see that movie. Or take movies out of it since most people don’t have long-form attention spans anymore. How many news reports do you see that show people giving back and doing good in the world? People want to believe there’s good in the world. It makes them feel good to see other people doing good.
I had something happen to me yesterday. I got out of a cab and left my phone. I’m in the hotel lobby, trying to check in, when I realized my phone’s gone. I go into an immediate panic. While the hotel desk was trying to figure out which cab I got out of, the cab driver comes back around the block, has a passenger in the car, gets out of the cab, runs into the lobby, and hands me my phone, and leaves. You could kind of see like the hotel desk was like, “Oh, my gosh. I can’t believe he did that. That’s so great.” They felt good about the fact that he did that, right?
[00:15:37] PF: Yes.
[00:15:37] DB: I felt good about the fact that he did that. Of course, I was the beneficiary in that regard. But we feel good when we see other people doing good. It reaffirms there’s good in the world, and it creates a positive outlook for us is what I think. I don’t know.
[00:15:51] PF: That makes sense.
[00:15:52] DB: How many movies have you watched where somebody did something great, and you’re like, “Wow, that’s amazing.”? It just gives you that good, elated feeling and seeing other people good. But the other thing I do think it does do is it motivates you to recreate that good feeling by doing something yourself. If they did that, what can I do? I think that that is a benefit of things that we do like our Happy Acts campaign. That’s the goal with other people out there doing good things so that people see it.
[00:16:22] PF: So there’s so much in this report that we could dig into. We could just do like a whole year-long series based on it, but we’re not going to. I wanted to find out what you thought the most interesting takeaway was from this volume.
[00:16:37] DB: I think a lot of people will be shocked. My most interesting takeaway, and I think from talking about it with you, it’s probably yours as well, that happiness in the Ukraine actually went up. Isn’t that crazy?
[00:16:51] PF: Yes. When I saw that, honestly, I went to the charts. I kept going back because I’m like, “I cannot be reading this right.”
[00:16:59] DB: Right.
[00:17:00] PF: It was.
[00:17:01] DB: It’s startling. Ukraine actually moved up a few spots. I don’t want to believe it’s because the rest of the world moved down. You could take that negative approach to it.
[00:17:09] PF: Everyone else is just sadder.
[00:17:13] DB: But that’s really not what the report showed. What they attributed it to was really interesting. It’s that even though they’re in a war-torn region, and certainly that would have an effect on overall well-being, specifically, in the people who live in the areas that are where the conflict is. Our news makes us think the entire country is completely in conflict all the time, and it’s not. But what they’ve – yes, it’s horrible than it’s tragic. It’s a horrible thing going on, and people are certainly negatively impacted.
But why they are overall up, the report attributed really to the fact that they are united in a common goal at this point, which is really interesting that, once again, we’re talking about population well-being, not individual well-being. But it really is interesting how that feeling of being united has put them in a higher position.
I correlate this back to why do the Scandinavian countries typically dominate the top of this report. It’s always been because there are homogeneous populations that look at the world the same way. So there’s very little social conflict in those regions. In Ukraine, there’s a ton of conflict but not among the Ukrainians because they’re very united in their outlook right now. So I found that really interesting.
[00:18:28] PF: Yes. The other thing about Ukraine because I went – I’m just geeky enough to go look at the actual little graphs in the report, and it showed that one of the areas where like they had dipped down prior to last year, they had dipped down in their confidence in their government. We know that’s one of the measures that the council uses when they’re doing the report is like your faith and your confidence in your government. Well, in the past year, their confidence in their leadership has escalated. So you think that’s got to affect their happiness as well.
[00:19:01] DB: It does, and it’s interesting. I think it’s interesting to point out that when we’re looking at the Happiness Report, we are looking at the well-being of the overall society. Certainly, confidence in your government, your feeling of security that nothing is going to surprise you from your government. A lot of that is important. They do look at that, so yes.
But that is interesting, and it’s particularly interesting in our country, the United States. I know that people outside the United States listen to this podcast. I’ve met a few of them this week in Australia, and it’s wonderful. Conflict that we see in our government, I think, and I think it shows in those geeky graphs you’re talking about, negatively impacts overall well-being in the United States, the fact that we don’t trust our government right now. We’re very untrusting of where it’s going.
That shows up in these reports, and it’s something that we struggle with because it’s in our face every day. It’s on the news every day. You and I have talked about this before. Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, you can’t deny that there’s a huge gulf and there’s polar opposites going on right now. That does impact where the US ranks on this report.
[00:20:10] PF: So do you think we as a country can become happy if we don’t heal that divide?
[00:20:15] DB: I think that there’s a lot of factors that contribute to it. I also – I’m Pollyanna optimist. You should know that by now.
[00:20:22] PF: I like the way the rainbow sprouts over your head every once in a while.
[00:20:25] DB: It does. It does. But I think that like everything else, I think that we will come back together at some point in time. I don’t think it’s unhealable. I think that you do see some steps towards healing all the time. It’s just not overwhelmingly obvious to everybody. But there are things that people agree on that are better. But there’s also a lot of conflict.
I think that overall, it will always impact our sense of well-being as a nation, until we can get some of that resolved. I don’t see how it wouldn’t. But I do think that family conflict and more immediate conflict has a more significant impact on us as individuals. So it’s one of those things that we’re going to struggle with. When you have free thought and free speech, sometimes you really didn’t want to hear what the other person thought.
[00:21:12] PF: Yes. We’re finding that out a lot.
[00:21:14] DB: Yes. It is challenging. But what’s interesting is despite that, the US has moved up a spot, again, for the second year in a row.
[00:21:22] PF: Yes, we’re climbing that ladder. We’re going to be in the top 10 like in three years.
[00:21:26] DB: If we keep going that direction, which I think the first time I looked, we started at 17th. So we’re getting there.
[00:21:33] PF: This is great. I wish you had been in Dallas for International Day of Happiness. We could have celebrated it together. But we’ll get it next year.
[00:21:40] DB: So there’s more on the World Happiness Report we probably need to discuss in future podcasts. We have to geek out every now and then on the science. I’m always excited to be able to do that with you. So thank you for everything you do for us.
[00:21:51] PF: Well, thank you. Thank you for letting me and thank you for geeking out with me today.
[00:21:56] DB: All right. You take care, Paula.
[00:21:58] PF: You too.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:22:02] PF: That was Live Happy Co-Founder and CEO, Deborah Heisz, talking about the 2023 World Happiness Report. If you’d like to read more stories related to the report or read the report itself, just visit our website at livehappy.com and click on the podcast link.
As we wrap up the month of March, we’d like to thank everyone who was part of our annual Happy Acts campaign. Just because the campaign is ending, it doesn’t mean that your daily acts of happiness have to end. Follow us on social media or visit our website to be inspired with ideas to make your world a little bit happier every day.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. Until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.