What the Key Drivers of Happiness Are

Posted on: March 25th, 2019 by Pat Mesiti 5 Comments

I read just recently that Australia has dropped out of the world’s list of the top-10 happiest countries for the first time ever. The United Nation prepares a World Happiness Report every year. 

Australia is now sitting at number 11. It has moved down two places since 2016. Finland is number one for a second straight year. Sitting in 11th place, Australia has moved down two places since 2016. New Zealand is three places ahead of Australia. For the third consecutive year the Kiwis come in at number eight.

Scandinavia leads the happiness survey

The top-four happiest countries, according to the UN were all Nordic nations, with Denmark second, followed by Norway, then Iceland. The Netherlands was fifth happiest, with Switzerland at six, Sweden seven. Canada came in ninth, and Austria replacing Australia in 10th spot.

It’s quite ironic that most people chose to go to warmer climates to retire – in Australia that is the Gold Coast and the US that is Florida, yet if this study is right you are more likely to be happier in one of the icy Scandinavian countries.

The powerhouse countries are not in the top 10

None of the world’s economic powerhouses made it to the top 10. Among them, the United Kingdom was the best with a rank of 15 (up from 18 last year). Germany went down from the 15th spot to the 17th. The United States dropped from the 18th to the 19th. Japan, Russia and China finished even further below, at 58 (down from 54th), 68 (down from 59th) and 93rd place (down from 86th). In general, absolute happiness levels have decreased worldwide despite continued economic growth. At the bottom end of the World Happiness list were Rwanda, Tanzania, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. India was also among the five countries to suffer the highest decline since 2005-2008 in the index, along with Yemen, Syria, Botswana and Venezuela.

The happiness report uses tested data

The World Happiness Report combines quantitative data – such as per capita GDP growth – and qualitative data, such as social support, freedom to make life choices, and perceptions of corruption, to rank 156 countries.

The UN report ranks countries on six key factors: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity. This year it had a special focus on “happiness and the community”, considering factors such as social media and technology, social norms, conflicts and government policies.

“How communities interact with each other, whether in schools, workplaces, neighbourhoods or on social media, has profound effects on world happiness,” said University of British Columbia professor John Helliwell, a co-editor of the report.

Countries suffering high levels of violence and poverty and corruption did not do well on the happiness scale, the continents of Asia and Africa are a case in point.

Are people like countries?

What struck me most about this report is that what countries need for happiness is exactly what people need – stability, enough resources, good relationships with community, and an absence of violence and stress.

Sufficient resources

The world’s richest countries were the happiest. People also need money to have a happy life. You’ve heard it said that money doesn't buy happiness, but that is not strictly true. If you are financially secure all the research shows that you have a more positive outlook on life. You feel safer. You don't have to worry about not being able to pay your bills or mortgage. Having enough money to be able to take care for yourself and those you love is an added security. The research shows that the more money you have the more likely it is that you will be healthy.

As part of prosperity mindset I’ve always told you that money isn't evil, it is essential. It can enable you to pursue goals and help others, and it buys you the lifestyle you want.

Violence and aggression are destructive 

The unhappiest countries were those marred by violence – Rwanda, Tanzania, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. 

Violence and aggression also destroys people’s happiness and it has a particularly harmful effect on children. It undermines their ability to lead happy lives as adults. Studies have found that the psychological aftermath of exposure to domestic violence can include fear of harm or abandonment, excessive worry or sadness, guilt, inability to empathise habitual lying, low frustration tolerance, emotional distancing, poor judgment, shame and fears about their future.

No one should tolerate aggression and violence in their life.

A good community is essential

When the UN was deciding a country’s happiness standing, it also looked at how its communities interacted – whether countries were divided or united. Just like countries, people also needed to belong to strong communities to be happy.

A Harvard University study found that happiness may be most connected to positive relationships and a supportive social circle. The Harvard University research began with some 160 students in 1938. Of the original study participants, 19 are still alive. The researchers kept track of physical health and the participant’s relationships, careers, successes, and failures.

What the years of data showed is that relationships were a key driver of happiness and protected against mental and physical decline. Relationships, more so than any other factor including money and career success, impacted happiness and satisfaction in old age.

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said Robert Waldinger, the director of the study. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”

The results indicated that quality of relationships at 50 is a better predictor of physical health than even cholesterol readings. Researchers also found that happy and supportive marriages reduced the risk of depression, and those who were in happy relationships in their 80s reported less suffering even when they were in physical pain. People in unhappy relationships reported more pain and emotional turmoil. 

When it comes to happiness, the study shows how important strong and nurturing relationships are.

What makes you happy?


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Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


  1. Joy Ferguson says:

    Pat, you always hit the nail on the head. This is a blog of such great and relevant information. Everyone needs to read it. Thank you, thank you.

  2. Zosie says:

    great, thanks Pat from New Zealand 🙂

  3. Nonie Ressler says:

    I consider myself very fortunate I wake up every day full of happiness and gratitude. I am Canadian living in Australia. Pat I have seen the best speakers in the world over many years Tony Robbins,Dr Dennis Waitley my favourite Jim Rohn,Dr Wayne Dwyer a former Russian president Gorbachov Danielle Kennedy,Tom Hopkins Alan Pease A dear friend of mine admires you and he is a very successful business man and an amazing human being

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