Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Iceland - the Happiest Country?

As with any happiness or life satisfaction league table, who comes top depends on exactly what's being measured and how. In this article by The Observer journalist John Carlin, Iceland is referred to as the happiest country in the world. How can this be? We all know that it's Denmark!

Carlin's conclusion is based on Iceland's ranking in the Human Development Index (HDI), one of the four United Nations assessments of human potential - it measures three basic dimensions - a long and healthy life, education and a decent standard of living.

1. Health is measured by life expectancy at birth,
2. Education is measured by a combination of the adult literacy rate and the combined gross enrolment ratio in primary, secondary, and tertiary education,
3. Standard of living is measured by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP US$).

So the HDI isn't actually quantifying either happiness or life satisfaction, and it's questionable (in Positive Psychology terms) whether health, wealth and education significantly contribute to happiness anyway.

In fact there are some elements of Icelandic society which would contradict the conclusion that it's one of the best countries in the world to live in, for example, the highest divorce rate in Europe. However, this doesn't mean they have unhappy families - in fact writes Carlin', "The kids will be just fine, because the family will rally round them, and likely as not, the parents will continue to have a civilised relationship, based on the usually automatic understanding that custody of the children will be shared".

The article provides further insights into those character traits which might explain why Icelanders are generally happy people (if not the happiest), for example, optimism, resilience, self-confidence and a can-do attitude. That said, if we follow Lyubomirsky's "Happiness Pie" model, after genes (50%), what we chose to do with our time is the largest contributor (40%) to our happiness - do we have any readers who could comment on how the average happy Icelander spends his/her time?

Whether or not it's the happiest country, Iceland takes first place in the 2007/08 HDI, followed by Norway, Australia, Canada and Ireland. The USA is in 12th position, Denmark 14th and the UK 16th. At the bottom , not surprisingly are the West African countries of Guinea (175th), Burkina Faso (176th) and Sierra Leone (177th). For the full list, see here.

Image: GĂșnna

Monday, 26 May 2008

Positive Psychology, Music and Song

In this month's Positive Psychology News Daily article we explore the links between Positive Psychology, making music and singing in unison.

Not only are they both good for your physical health, scientists like Professor Stephen Clift of the Sidney de Haan Centre for Arts and Health are now investigating the benefits for psychological well-being, including increased happiness,self-esteem and self-efficacy, and reduced depression.

Read the rest of the article here.

Image: Tallalex85

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Positive Psychology down on the farm

This is the most off the wall application of positive psychology in business I've come across yet - who would have thought that performing Tai Chi in front of cows would improve the quality and quantity of their milk?

Devon farmer, Robert Taverner, says that not only does performing Tai Chi together bond his workforce, the fact that it makes them more relaxed and happy has a positive knock-one effect on his 250 dairy cows, which results in them producing higher quality milk. You can watch a video of various members of the farm's team performing a different Tai Chi ritual for every day of the week on Robert's website.

For a quick (3 minute) insight into Tai Chi for cows, listen to Robert on BBC Radio 4's Saturday Live programme yesterday morning (10 May 2008)- it starts at about 6 mins 45 seconds into the programme.

Image: WukieGrl

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Are You Friendly and Sociable?

'Why, of course!', you reply, slightly indignant that we've even asked the question. And no doubt at work or down the pub or gym, you are. But what about with your neighbours? Do you know the other people who live in your street? And would you leave them a set of keys to your house?

These were questions asked by recent BBC research into neighbourliness. In response:

  • 36% of us wouldn't trust anyone on our street with a set of keys.
  • surprisingly, in the younger age group (25-34 year olds), this is a whopping 48%!
  • 22% of us believe our neighbourhoods have become less friendly in the last five years.

A lot of this has been attributed to the loss of local institutions (like schools, small shops, and Post Office closures), and the fact that people work further and further away from home. There are fewer and fewer reasons for people who live near each other to get together.

It's interesting (and concerning) that British people are far less trusting than other Europeans - when measured by the World Values Survey, which asked 'Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?'. Britain is one of the few countries (along with the US) in which the levels of trust have been falling.

In 1981, 42.5% of British people said "yes most people can be trusted". By 1998 this had fallen to 30.4% The levels of trust in other European countries has actually been rising over this same period of time - take Denmark for example, where the number who said "yes" rose from 45.9% to 64.1% between 1981 and 1999. Apparently Britain is the only European country in which levels of trust have been falling. Hmmmmm, makes you think doesn't it?

But back to the more immediate question of you and your neighbours...if you think your neighbourhood is unfriendly, you can bet that they feel the same way. So, be bold! Invite a few round for a cup of coffee, or a drink one evening. And now that summer is on its way, you could even bring out the BBQ. Go on, take the first step - you'll be pleasantly surprised how human your neighbours turn out to be.