Global happiness up six points since last year: 73% now say they are happy
Global survey unveils drivers of happiness, finds life satisfaction roaring in Latin America but dropping in many Western countries; while people strive for social connections, many are pessimistic about the future of relationships and one in five say they have no one to turn to for support.
On average, nearly three in four (73%) adults across 32 markets describe themselves as happy, according to the results of a new Ipsos survey. Of all the markets surveyed, those with the highest proportions of happy citizens are China (mainland - 91%), Saudi Arabia (86%), and the Netherlands (85%).
Global happiness has increased for the second year in a row. It is six points higher than a year ago and 10 points higher than it was in August 2020, just months after COVID disrupted people’s lives around the world. The overall increase masks very different trends across regions: while the proportion of self-reported happy people has risen sharply across Latin America, it has taken a tumble in many Western countries. Year-over-year changes range from 26-point gains in Colombia and Argentina to a 13-point dip in Great Britain.
On average, happiness in middle-income markets (as defined by the World Bank) saw a more pronounced increase than it did in high-income markets. The average happiness level of middle-income markets has surpassed that of high-income markets for the first time since Ipsos started tracking them in 2011.
Among all the aspects of their life, people tend to be most satisfied with their relationships — with their children, spouse, relatives, friends, co-workers, and with nature— and with knowledge-related areas such as their level of education and their access to information. On average globally, people tend to be least satisfied with their local economic, political, or social situation, their own finances, their romantic or sex life, and their physical activity.
However, the survey finds that people are most likely to say they are happy if they are satisfied that their life is meaningful, if they feel in control of their life, if they feel valued, and/or if they are satisfied with their mental and material well-being. The drivers of happiness vary little by gender, with the notable exceptions of marital relationships and mental health (more important to women's happiness) and of one’s own financial situation (more important to men's happiness).
The study reveals that many people lack a support system. Globally, only 72% have friends or relatives they could turn to for help, including less than two-thirds in in Japan, Brazil, and South Korea, and generally among those with a lower income. Four in 10 say they have recently experienced a distressing event with higher proportions among Gen Zers and Millennials, those with a lower income, and women.
Furthermore, while large majorities in nearly every market surveyed say they are happy, pessimism about the future of relationships prevails. Twice as many say it will become harder than say it will become easier for singles to find a romantic partner, for couples to maintain a happy relationship, and for people to have close friendships they can count on. Pessimism is particularly pronounced among Boomers and GenXers, the less educated and less affluent, unmarried adults, and more generally among citizens of high-income markets.
Who and where are people the happiest?
On average across the 32 markets polled, 73% say they are very or rather happy. Among those markets, respondents from Saudi Arabia (86%), the Netherlands (85%), India (84%), and Brazil (83%) report the highest level of happiness, while respondents from Hungary (50%), South Korea (57%) and Poland (58%) report the lowest. The U.S. hovers around the middle of the pack, with 76% of American respondents saying they are very or rather happy.
This year’s increase in the global level of happiness is driven by Latin American countries, many of which show remarkable year-over-year increases, including Colombia (+26 percentage points), Argentina (+26), Brazil (+20), and Peru (+18). Conversely, many Western countries post declines in year-over-year reported happiness: Great Britain (-13 percentage points), Poland (-7), Canada (-6), Belgium (-5), Germany (-5), and former happiness champion Australia (-5).
What are people satisfied with?
Globally, people say they are most satisfied with their relationships with their friends and family, while far fewer say they are satisfied with their local economic and political situation.
Among 30 aspects of life, five of the top six showing the highest levels of satisfaction pertain to relationships:
- My children (if a parent) (85%)
- Relationship with partner/spouse (if has one) (84%)
- Access to/in touch with nature (80%)
- Level of education (80%)
- Relationship with relatives (78%)
- Friends (78%)
The five aspects respondents are least likely to be satisfied with are:
- Local social and political situation (40%)
- Local economic situation (40%)
- Own financial situation (57%)
- Romantic/sex life (63%)
- Exercising/physical activities (65%)
The areas of life respondents are happy with tend to vary depending on their local level of economic development. Relative to other aspects of their life, citizens of higher-income markets tend to be satisfied with their personal safety and security, material possessions and living conditions more than are those of middle-income markets. The latter tend to be more satisfied with their religious life, physical health, and looks than are citizens from more affluent market.
What makes people happy?
Ipsos measured the relationship between all respondents’ reported level of overall happiness and level of satisfaction with 30 aspects of life. This analysis helped rank order all 30 aspects of life measured in terms their relative impact on overall happiness. It brings to light that the top five drivers of happiness are, in order: feeling one’s life has meaning, feeling in control of it, mental health and well-being, social life, and living conditions.
Among all 30 aspects of life, satisfaction with one’s children has the lowest impact on happiness, reflecting that most parents are satisfied with their children even if they are unhappy about other things in their life.
Challenging circumstances and access to support networks
Though family and friends are among the most prevalent sources of happiness, one in five adults lack a support system of friends or family they can rely on during difficult situations – even as many report having experienced distressing events in the past year.
Globally, 72% on average say they have friends or relatives that they could rely on to help them in case of need. This leaves 21% of adults saying they don’t have friends or relatives to rely on. (The remaining 7% preferred not to answer.)
- Respondents from Japan (54%), Brazil (58%), and South Korea (61%) are the least likely to say they have these support networks, while those from the Netherlands (82%), Indonesia (79%), and Portugal (79%) are the most likely to report having them.
- Lower-income, less educated, unmarried, and Gen Z respondents are also less likely to say they have access to support networks compared to higher-income, more educated, married, and older respondents, respectively.
Despite an alarmingly high number of people globally without access to support networks, many report experiencing distressing events that may have been easier to navigate with support networks. On average, 39% of respondents globally say they recently experienced a disturbing or distressing event that prevented them from feeling good about their life, while 37% said they are currently or recently faced a difficult situation that they could not resolve by themselves.
- Gen Z, millennial, and lower-income respondents are also far more likely to say they have gone through distressing events recently than older and wealthier respondents.
Many are pessimistic about the future of finding friends and romance
The results of this study underscore the importance of friends and family as a major area of satisfaction in people’s lives. But just as many lack these relationships, many also feel that it will become harder to find or maintain these relationships.
About twice as many people say it will get more difficult rather than easier for single people to find a romantic partner (43% vs. 22%), for people to find close friends (43% vs. 23%), and for married couples to maintain happy relationships (43% vs. 21%). This pessimism is most pronounced among Boomers and Gen X respondents, females, and respondents that are unmarried, have lower income, or are unemployed.
Consumer confidence as a measure of happiness
Another key finding from this study is that, at a local level, levels of happiness tend to reflect levels of consumer sentiment. Ipsos compared the percentage of happy adults and Ipsos’s Consumer Confidence Index across the 22 markets where both were measured in the same survey and found they are highly correlated. The Consumer Confidence Index tracks people’s sentiment about their financial situation, their ability to make purchases and investments, and perceptions of their local economy, job security and future opportunities.
About the study
These are the findings of a 32-market Ipsos survey conducted December 22, 2022 – January 6, 2023, among 22,508 adults aged 18-74 in the United States, Canada, Malaysia, South Africa, and Turkey, 20-74 in Thailand, 21-74 in Indonesia and Singapore, and 16-74 in 24 other countries, via Ipsos’s Global Advisor online survey platform.
For more insights from this survey, join us for our webinar on April 13th.
Be sure to also check out our Happiness Deep Dive.