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2 min read

Does Social Connection Increase Happiness?

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As we navigate the complexities of modern life, the 2024 World Happiness Report sheds light on the underpinnings of true happiness. Discover insights into how social support and generosity shape our sense of well-being, transcending beyond the surface of everyday experiences.

Love or money? Which one brings us more happiness?

The release of the 2024 World Happiness Report by the Oxford Wellbeing Center and its partners showed that the Nordic countries continue to dominate the rankings of the happiest countries. The US dropped precipitously in the rankings from #15 to #23. The question is, why?

The Nordic countries have high incomes and big social welfare states. They are also ethnically homogeneous and have generous social welfare programs. Due to the chilly climate and the high degree of relatedness, the Nordics have also institutionalized socializing. In Denmark, this is called hygge and translates as "a highly valued form of togetherness." When I worked at a medical school in Denmark, there was a dedicated snack room where everyone would gather around 3pm for coffee, snacks, and socializing. A similar concept in Sweden is known as fika.

Everyone seems to be related to everyone else in these small countries. In research I published in 2006, I showed these regions have a very strong positive relationship between interpersonal trust and happiness. Trust is built during hygge and fika, and this generates happiness.

US per capita income is higher than that in all the Nordic countries, except oil-rich Norway, but of course we have less expansive government programs and consequently lower taxes. Tellingly, the US has lower interpersonal trust and a larger spread in incomes. Many employees eat lunch alone at their desks, whether in the office or at home, and there is no tradition of hygge.

An analysis by Oxford scientists, highlighted in a visual below from FlexOS founder and CEO Daan van Rossum demonstrates that half of country-level happiness has been attributed to social support. One-half. This reveals the monumental role that community and social connections – manifested through practices like hygge and fika – play in elevating national happiness. Fostering social bonds isn’t just beneficial; it’s a key ingredient to a nation’s overall sense of well-being.

A country's per capita wealth, which is closely related to per capita income, only contributes 10% to a country's happiness. Love beats money by 4 to 1. The World Happiness Report also revealed that the other "love" component that contributes to happiness is generosity. In a recent scientific publication by Immersion's cofounders, we reported that those who are more generous with their time and treasure, release more oxytocin when asked to help others. Those who released the most oxytocin – a core component of Immersion – were also substantially more satisfied with their lives. This strongly suggests that people who engage in helping behaviors have altered their brain activity to prioritize accumulating love over accumulating wealth.

Putting others first is a choice, as is prioritizing time spent investing in community and social bonds. Indeed, as shown in the figure, happier countries also have more freedom. In these countries, people can choose how to live their lives, rather than being compelled by some government regulation or bureaucrat.

In the tapestry of human happiness, love undeniably outshines money, a truth vividly captured in the 2024 World Happiness Report. This analysis reminds us that the essence of well-being springs from deep social bonds, trust, and generosity—values that forge stronger societies than wealth alone can build. As we stand at the crossroads between accumulating wealth and nurturing relationships, the choice becomes clear. Embrace the communal warmth of connections, the joy of giving, and the liberation of trust. For in choosing to enrich our lives with love and generosity, we not only elevate our own happiness but also light the way for others in our collective journey toward a more fulfilled, harmonious world.

What choice will you make? Immersion's free well-being app Tuesday automatically links to your calendar, so you can see what truly brings you happiness every day. Tuesday also helps users increase their happiness every day by showing goals for oxytocin release.

We all have the freedom to choose to engage with and generously help others. By being of service, we gain the benefits of happiness. That's a win-win we can all get behind.


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