It should be no surprise to learn that happy people are healthier and live longer. Happiness brings more success to relationships and makes us more resilient during stressful times. Happy people perform better in their jobs and earn higher incomes. The happiest among us naturally feel a sense of inner peace. The United Nations recognizes happiness as a significant measure of outcome in our world and since 2012 has sponsored an annual happiness report of all countries. The latest results from the 2019 report are revealing.
The United States in the 2016-2018 epoch ranked 19th in the world, below top place finishes by Scandinavian countries, several central and western European countries, Australia-New Zealand, Canada, and Costa Rica. Out of 132 countries, the U.S. is among the top 15% of the happiest in the world. Notably, if material wealth were the source of happiness, the U.S. would be much higher on the list. Despite its relatively smaller size compared to other countries, it represents fully one quarter of the world’s economy. It seems clear that significant resultant happiness due to the acquisition of material wealth is fleeting, at best.
Of greatest concern is the fact that the U.S. has lost considerable ground in the happiness measure since 2005, which marks the starting point of the UN data collection. The U.S. ranked 112th of 132 countries (Venezuela came in last) when looking at the change in levels of happiness from 2005 through 2018. In the Declaration of Independence, one of the three unalienable rights declared by our founding forefathers was the pursuit of happiness, ranked equally with liberty and life itself. Yet, over 13 years, our happiness level has decreased more than 111 other countries. Where has the U.S. gone so wrong in pursuing one of the simplest measures of success available – our very happiness?
The 2019 report addresses the role of digital media in diminishing our sense of happiness. Among U.S. adolescents, happiness increased from 1991-2011, but has been in steady decline since 2012. Of note, smartphone availability and usage began a dramatic increase in 2012. This decline has also been associated with a serious increase in depression, suicidal ideation and self-harm, especially among girls and young women. Overall, suicide increased by 26% in the U.S. between 1999 and 2015, with especially alarming bubbles in young females and middle-aged white males.
In spite of the long-term rise in GDP per person over the measured interval, several simultaneous trends have contributed to our country’s malaise: worsening health conditions, declining social trust, and declining confidence in government. Many of the comments concerning the U.S. apply widely to other countries, especially in the Americas and Europe. Overall, the report elucidates how elusive happiness becomes when we are self-absorbed in our own little worlds, abandoning the social fabric of relationships with family and friends, and falling victim to satisfying the demands of our ego as it promotes our material-oriented drives.
The general impact of burgeoning addictions has contributed to the spread of unhappiness in the U.S. Addictions are widely defined to include not just narcotics and alcohol, but addiction to work, exercise, screen time, food, sex and love, among others. Any activity that consumes a person’s time, energy and interest at the expense of the rest of their life is considered an addiction. One of the major consequences is the damage and destruction of relationships with others. In contrast, the report findings support the notion that helping others can be a very rich source of happiness, a fact that may have been lost on many of the me-focused screen-addicted people in our modern world. Small acts of kindness and compassion represent a significant effect on happiness, for both the giver and the recipient.
The good news is, we can correct this course direction. We must realize we are not victims of circumstance – the outer world is a reflection of our inner world.
We tend to see ourselves as existing separately from the world around us, but, in fact, our entire mental model of self and world is ours alone. Language is all about objects, relationships and actions, and thus obscures the seamless oneness of our conscious perceptions in which all of the universe is an aspect of our mental “self.” Placebo effect is just one of the most common examples showing that our beliefs and mental will can affect the physical world in ways that defy simplistic materialistic notions of cause and effect.
Combine this realization with the emerging scientific concept that we are all sharing one mind. In fact, consciousness is unified throughout the universe and is only filtered into our awareness through our brains, luring us into believing that personal consciousness is isolated when that is not the case at all. Our very existence as sentient beings offers us significant influence in how that mental world evolves. This highlights the value of exploring the mental realms as a means of interacting with the universe at large.
In essence, the main thrust of modern scientific studies of consciousness is revealing that we are spiritual beings living in a spiritual universe. The more separatist, competitive materialistic thinking has pervaded our modern world, the further we have migrated from our basic spiritual nature, resulting in unhealthy dissonance and toxicity. This spiritual vacuum in our world is at the root of much of societal malaise, whether it be the storm of addiction that is killing us in unprecedented numbers, or the shocking epidemic of suicidal behavior afflicting huge swaths of our modern society – those who have lost any sense of meaning or purpose, not to mention happiness, in their lives.
To contribute to these efforts, Karen Newell and I have created Inner Sanctum Center, an online community designed to help open minds to these truths through exchange of ideas and generating firsthand experience. As part of its launch, we invited participants in our 33 Day Journey free program to a recent Live Q&A Session on October 22, 2019. We invite you to view a replay of this 93-minute session where we answer questions on a variety of topics.
No soul left behind – all can achieve inner peace and happiness, and the more each of us achieves this worthy goal, the more harmonious our world will become.