According to the World Happiness Report 2018 by the UN, the US is the 18th happiest nation in the world. The list was taken from a Gallup survey that asked respondents to assess their lives on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). Americans got an average of 6.8. For comparison, the top three countries (Finland, Norway, Denmark) all scored above 7.5. What's worse is that the US actually fell four spots from last year's ranking (14th).
For a country considered to be the wealthiest in the world, it’s ironic that its citizens are not actually that happy. This result simply illustrates that happiness is not linked to prosperity alone.
Students from the University of Chicago recently conducted a survey asking one simple question: “If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you would like for the rest of your life, would you continue to work or would you stop working?” This is in light of the US Mega Millions lottery jackpot, which reached $1.6 billion and made headlines across the entire country. In fact, USA Today reported that a Chevron near Los Angeles airport was filled with hundreds of people buying tickets, creating a line which kept clerks occupied from 6 AM to 7 PM. This was a common sight nationwide in the weeks before the highest lottery jackpot in history was finally won, although the craze was not entirely unprecedented. According to Lottoland, the US Mega Millions lottery has a track record of supersized payouts. Before its record-breaking $1.6 billion jackpot, the lottery provided the second-largest jackpot win of all time, which was $656 million. Even with that lower amount, the money is still more than enough money to sustain a life of luxury.
The results of the survey, however, revealed something surprising. 70% of the respondents stated that they would still continue working even if they won the lottery jackpot. Only 9% said that they would quit their jobs. In addition, 33% relayed that they would share the prize with others, which is actually true for many people who have won major jackpots. Contrary to popular belief, a lot of lottery winners avoid lavish spending sprees and instead give a considerable portion or even all of their winnings to others in the form of gifts or donations.
So it seems that while there are many unhappy Americans, their dissatisfaction may not be related to financial issues at all. And if the aforementioned survey means anything, it shows that most Americans place more value in making a difference than being wealthy.
But if money does not make people happy, then what does? An article from Brookings argued that it is meaningful work, not money, that buys happiness. They shared some words of wisdom from the Dalai Lama who seems to agree with this perspective. The spiritual leader stressed that “the problem is not a lack of material riches. It is the growing number of people who feel they are no longer useful, no longer needed, no longer one with their societies.”
Indeed, deep social inequality still remains in American society. As we have discussed in another article here on The Sun Bay Paper, it is this lack of empathy that further divides us. The minute we realize that happiness doesn’t lie in having large amounts of money but sharing it, we have already begun to make the world a better place.