I came across a fascinating study published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which examined the link between health, wealth and happiness (Vol. 101, No. 1). The New Zealand researchers collated a huge amount of data from 638 different studies – a total of 420,599 people in 63 countries. They found that a sense of individualism, personal freedom and autonomy were the biggest factors associated with people’s overall sense of well-being. Money was only important to satisfy our basic needs but once these are met, the most important happiness and well-being factor is whether we have the freedom to make choices about how we want to live.
But it’s a fine line: the researchers found that in the most individualistic societies (such as the United States), the greater independence from family seems to be related to increased levels of stress and ill-being. On the other hand, citizens of countries where personal freedoms and family ties are important, such as northern European nations, tend to be the happiest, least stressed and rated their well-being highest.