Healthy Mind

The World Happiness Report Is Giving You Something To Smile About

Mary Grace Garis

Photo: Stocksy/Lauren Lee
Nobody was really roaring in 2020, unless you mean in absolute anguish. Nonetheless, the 2021 World Happiness Report shows that even in a global crisis, people are capable of joy. Once again, the Nordic countries of Finland and Denmark take gold and silver, respectively, followed by Switzerland, in the happiness report. But what’s interesting is that during the pandemic, two components of happiness have stuck out: trust and benevolence. Not only that, but fostering higher levels of trust and benevolence is an effective strategy to get through the pandemic with your mental well-being intact.

First of all: yay! Second of all, how do the two relate? Generally speaking, countries with expectations of pro-social behavior, trust in others, and trust in institutions were expected to foster behaviors that would help a society to follow physical distancing and other COVID regulations, such as wearing a mask.

Now, to be discerning, it makes sense why someone would be distrustful of institutions and doubt human goodness right now, particularly in the United States, which ranks at a deeply unimpressive 19 in the World Happiness Report. It’s very clear that the country has to work on itself, and that trust is earned, not given.

People in the U.S., however, can think smaller to become more intentional about those we keep in our (socially distant) circle. If you want to become happier but getting citizenship to Finland is a little out of reach, here’s how to increase benevolence and strengthen trust in your immediate world.

Trust and benevolence are two major components of happinesshere’s how to strengthen them

1. Learn the five major components of trust

If you’re looking to vet someone as trustworthy, the Gottman Institute outlined five major components to look for. Fun fact: honesty is only one of them. Transparency, accountability, ethical actions, and proof of alliance all combine to form a trustworthy person. Keep this checklist in mind so you can spot unreliable people who aren’t worth it.

2. Surround yourself with positive people

If you want to believe in good in the world, surround yourself with those with a silver lining outlook. These aren’t the toxic positivity folks who prefer love and light over vaccines and social justice. They’re the people who can see the light at the end of the tunnel, even in times where there seems to be a power outage in joyfulness.

“We always thought happiness was contagious and now research really shows that to be true,” optimism doctor Deepika Chopra, PsyD, a happiness researcher and founder of Things Are Looking Up—A place for Optimismpreviously told Well+Good. “Happiness spreads through social networks up to three degrees of separation—so if you’re happy, your friend of a friend and even their friends have a greater likelihood of being happy as well.”

3. Be able to trust your sources when it comes to new information

This has been solid advice since the pandemic started (and way before) but it bears repeating. Take inventory on where and how you get your information. Take stock of sources that are science and evidence based. Streamline your newsfeed from material from unreliable sources, because that opinionated guy from your high school definitely isn’t an immunology expert and you don’t need any confusion clogging your feed.

4. Be the goodness you want to see in the world

Not to sound like an after-school special, but the best way to see the world as a better place is to make it a better place. Be the change you want to see. And you’re allowed to start small, because even little acts of kindness can rewire your brain to be happier. Even something like pro-social spending (buying a struggling friend a gift or purchasing a T-shirt that gives 25 percent of it’s proceeds to charity) gives you a “helper’s high.”

“Research shows that the act of spending our time and our money on other people actually makes us happier than spending our money and our time on ourselves,” Yale happiness expert and professor of psychology Laurie Santos, PhD, previously said in an episode of podcast Kind World. So next time you’re thinking of ordering Seamless, maybe consider donating to a food bank instead. Or go ahead and do both—who am I to deny your happiness?

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