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World Happiness Report 2022: 3 Insights for Digital Wellbeing

The 2022 World Happiness Report (WHR) is out, and this year the report offers some useful insights for digital wellbeing (having a healthy balance of technology in your life, that is good for you).

The WHR does not directly refer to digital wellbeing, but it does reveal the key drivers of wellbeing, and in doing so, shows how you can use digital technology to promote happiness (experiencing life positively*) for yourself and others

  • Health: Use digital apps that support your physical, mental and financial health
  • Freedom: Use digital technology to help you feel in control of your life
  • Kindness: Interact online in a way that demonstrates kindness, generosity, and trustworthiness

The report, which is famous for ranking countries by citizen happiness (yes, Northern Europe – Finland, Denmark, and Iceland are on top again) also includes some relevant research on the biological basis of happiness.

In particular, high connectivity in an area of the brain (DMN) associated with mind-wandering, daydreaming, and not being focused on the outside world is associated with lower wellbeing (Chapter 5).

This is consistent with wellbeing research that shows wellbeing is less about relaxing and self-focus, and more about being active, and actively using your strengths to accomplish your goals and overcome your challenges. The same may be true for digital wellbeing – digital wellbeing may be less about ‘down time’, and more about using digital technology actively to make the most of your ‘up-time’.

War, disease and happiness?

This latest UN report on the global state of human happiness might seem incongruous as the world counts the costs of a global pandemic and witnesses the breakout of war in Europe.

But the WHR is hopeful, and their global survey (119 countries, 1000-3000 participants per country) reveals that humans are remarkably resilient. In 2021 we were, as a species and on average, pretty much as happy as we were before the pandemic.

Global Happiness (‘Happiness Ladder’ / 10)**

• 2017-2019 = 5.75
• 2021 = 5.71

Of course, global averages mask individual and country differences.

So, as in previous years, if it’s happiness that you’re after, then you’re most likely to find it in Northern Europe.

The top 5 happiest countries in the world are, in order, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and Netherlands. The 5 least happy are Afghanistan, Lebanon, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Botswana.

The WHR uses differences in happiness levels to reveal the key drivers of happiness.

  • Money and health matter (as measured by GDP per capita and healthy life expectancy); happiness flourishes with human prosperity and health.
  • Freedom matters: happiness thrives when people feel free to choose what they do with their life
  • Benevolence matters: experiencing people and organisations as kind, generous and trustworthy promotes happiness
  • On the other hand, corruption is corrosive to happiness. When people experience businesses (and government) as corrupt, there is less happiness.

So, what are your options for digital wellbeing? You could move to Northern Europe, or you could use digital technology more mindfully, in a way that promotes health, freedom and kindness.

You can download the full 2022 World Happiness Report directly here.

World Happiness Report 2022

* The WHR estimates happiness by combining three variables (1. positive evaluation of life situation (as measured by Happiness Ladder – see below), 2. presence and prevalence of positive ‘affect’ (positive emotions – as measured by smiling, laughing, enjoyment and learning or doing things that you find interesting), and 3) absence or low levels of negative affect (negativity – as measured by experiencing worry, sadness, and anger)

** Happiness Ladder (also known as Cantril Ladder). “Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”

Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.