The World Happiness Report for 2013 has just been released. The report is an attempt to measure the overall happiness levels of each country by measuring a variety of factors and adding them up to create a country's happiness score.
Americans may be shocked to discover that Mexico came in one spot higher on the happiness scale than the United States. Also outperforming the US are countries as disparate as Panama, Israel, Canada, most of Northern Europe, Costa Rica, and even the United Arab Emirates.
Most likely, we have trouble believing this could be so because when Americans think of happiness, we immediately visualize things such as our standard of living (money, luxury goods, financial opportunities) versus Mexico's or perhaps discount the possibility this could be true because we so frequently hear about how the multitude Mexicans are beating down the door to get into America--illegally if they must. Mexicans wouldn't be clamoring to get into America in such vast numbers if Mexico was really, on average, a happier place, would they?
It's not just money that they lack, either. Mexicans on average have worse health, fewer job opportunities, more political corruption, less education, and dramatically less personal safety.
Herein lies our fundamental confusion about what generates authentic, lasting happiness. It turns out that money and luxury play virtually no role in happiness -- at least once we reach the threshold of having our basic needs of shelter, clothing, food, and other essentials met. Scientific study after study after study confirms this. (My book, The Bliss Experiment, dedicates an entire chapter to explaining this on a granular level. To peruse the overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating this point, you can look at the bibliography for the book, which is posted here. Scroll down to Chapter 3).
This evidence also indicates why some Mexicans do indeed try legally and illegally enter America; by and large, these are the poorest of the poor, those whose income levels do not yet meet their basic needs for survival. It's also worth noting that despite how the issue is often portrayed in the US media, only a tiny percentage of Mexicans try to come to the United States. While estimates very, all agree that we are talking about less than 1% of the Mexican population, possibly far less. The other 99%+ are perfectly content in Mexico.
Why then are Mexicans, on average, happier than Americans? Overall, Mexicans have a better ability to cope with life's negative experiences -- pain, worry, sadness, and the like -- and dwell on feelings of contentment, hopefulness, generosity, compassion, and joy.. In general -- and even despite the corruption and narco-terrorists/drug-traffickers -- for most people, they have better stress-coping resources and are more attuned to the positive than negative. They laugh more and worry less--even though one could argue that they have much more that they "could" or even "should" be worried about. They have much stronger social relationships and a sense of social support through families, extended families, friendships, and stable relationships. People give to others more freely which boosts their own happiness. People also know that when in need, they are more likely to be the beneficiaries of generosity, decreasing their stress levels and bolstering their feeling that there's a safety net beneath them.
It's essential to notice one key thing: happiness is primarily internal. It comes from how we think, feel, and behave. It has little to do with external circumstance, whether positive or negative. And it certainly has virtually nothing to do with income, wealth, or material goods. That means that although we might lag behind right now, there is no intrinsic thing blocking us from improving our happiness.
If you have a brain and a heart, you have everything you need to turn around your mental and spiritual well-being. Every time you forget this, take a moment to remind yourself about the citizens of Mexico, Panama, Israel, Costa Rica, and the United Arab Emirates. If they can do it, so can you.