By Elena Crete
The 2016 World Happiness Report update was released on March 16th in Rome, Italy. As in previous versions, the report includes a ranking of the level of happiness in 156 countries, followed by supporting chapters. This year’s chapters explored the distribution of happiness, secular ethics, and the potential integration of happiness metrics with various global indexes, including an index relating to the sustainable development goals (SDGs). As this report was published outside of the bi-annual schedule, it included a shorter update on the rankings, as well as a supplemental Special Rome Edition which invited papers from leading academics and scientists on the morality and ethical considerations of happiness (To read the report in full, please visit worldhappiness.report.) The launch event extended over a three-day conference where economic and social science academics and practitioners from around the world came together to share research findings, discuss the reports, and explore tools and techniques for measuring happiness and well-being.
The first day was hosted by Libera Università Maria Ss. Assunta (LUMSA) University and included breakout presentations by leading academics on the state of well-being research. Presentation topics ranged from the impact of food satisfaction on perceived well-being, to the effects of religious beliefs as an ‘insurance policy’ for long-term happiness. The day was peppered with illuminating conversation, the sharing of ideas, and a general tone of agreement on the growing importance of happiness as an indicator of progress in our increasingly complex world.
Day two of the conference was hosted by the Bank of Italy and featured a panel presentation by the editors of the 2016 Report, including the accompanying Special Rome Edition. The day’s discussion covered each chapter of the two volumes. One of the primary themes of the day included the trend of growing inequality within and among countries around the world. Professor John Helliwell discussed this at length and explained how inequality at both a macro and micro scale can cause great distress, jealousy, and thus unhappiness for individuals and societies as a whole.
The last day of the conference included a spectacular mobilization of youth as more than 1,000 Italian students joined a presentation by the three lead editors of the report, Jeffrey Sachs, John Helliwell and Richard Layard. Additionally there were speeches by Leonardo Bacchetti, Stefano Zamagni and Luigino Bruni from Italian Universities at the Vatican’s Court of the Gentiles, featuring commentary by Cardinal Ravasi and Former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato. The panel discussed the importance of mental health, social support systems and relationships, and how the SDGs can be used as a framework for improving happiness around the world. The panelists called upon the assembled youth to pursue happiness in themselves and each other, and to consider societal well-being a measure of success in their future careers and everyday life.
The 3-day event was covered by press from around the world, from the New York Times to the Bangkok Post. As the world leaders on happiness research convened in Rome for this high level conference, one message was clear. Happiness is a complex metric of human well-being and one that is effected by various aspects of life; from the food we eat, to the office we work, and in the church we worship. As stated by Tamer Zaki from London Metropolitan University, “Happiness is not a binary measure to achieve or not, it’s about the transition to a state of being happy”. The diversity of the participants and caliber of the presentations was illustrative of the growing prevalence of happiness and well-being as an important topic of scientific research, one that should be integrated into national and global development policies.