The Happiest People in the World

How community helps people around the world live longer, healthier lives.

For decades researchers have been in search of the secrets to living a long and happy life. By looking at societies around the world that have high life expectancy rates and rank highly in happiness studies, there’s a lot to be learned about the factors that positively affect health and happiness.

While healthy diets and access to healthcare are important factors for longevity, an 80-year-long Harvard study found that maintaining strong relationships was the key to living a happy life. “Taking care of your body is important,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the study, as quoted by the Harvard Gazette, “but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”

Lifelong communities in Okinawa, Japan

In Okinawa, Japan, where life expectancy is the highest in the world, residents join moais, or mutually supportive social circles. Members pay a monthly contribution which goes towards dinners, social gatherings, and a monthly lottery. If a member is in financial trouble, they can get a loan from the group’s collective savings. 

Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles talk about the benefits of moais in their book, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. While each moai is unique in the way in which they operate, “The feeling of belonging and support gives an individual a sense of security and helps increase life expectancy.”

Hygge for happiness in Scandinavia

Despite the cold, dark winters, people from Scandinavian countries consistently rank as some of the happiest people in the world. The secret of maintaining a cheery outlook in the winter months is “hygge,” (or in Norway, “koselig”). Though there’s no direct translation to English, the words represent the feeling of coziness and contentment that’s often associated with the Christmas season or hanging out with friends by a fire. Hygge is achieved by creating a calming environment (think: candles, warm drinks, dim lighting) and doing activities that bring happiness. Spending time with loved ones is essential to hygge.

According to Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, being with other people is possibly the most important ingredient for happiness. He writes in his book, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, that the quality of relationships matter. 

“The most important social relationships are close relationships in which you experience things together with others, and experience being understood; where you share thoughts and feelings, and both give and receive support. In one word: hygge.”

Building your own communities

You don’t need to live in Okinawa or Denmark to reap the benefits that come from having a tight-knit local community. Joining a book club, a supper club, a board game group or a dog walking group are simple ways to connect with people regularly. Ultimately, an investment in your social life is an investment in your own health and wellbeing.

Last modified on March 10, 2020