Living Happy

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by Allison Lamplugh

Where is the happiest place on Earth? If you thought Disneyland, think again. It’s actually Denmark. And there’s data to back that up.

The idea of measuring happiness has gained traction in the 21st century, and many organizations are collecting data to identify what makes people happy and where the happiest people are.

Although the United States may be on the top of many other lists, happiness, according to the data, is not one of them.

This year’s results have the same top three as the year before, except their order was rearranged. Denmark won with the happiest citizens averaging 7.526 on the happiness scale, followed by Switzerland at 7.509, and Iceland at 7.501. The United States ranked thirteenth at 7.104. The bottom three included Togo, Syria, and Burundi.

According to the authors, social cohesiveness was of much importance for the results of the World Happiness Report. Iceland’s high level of trust helped its ranking despite a serious financial crisis, while Spain, Italy, and Greece fell in the happiness rankings in part because they lacked the cohesiveness to pull through their financial troubles.

The report also shows that people are happier living in a society where there is less inequality of happiness. To be noted, the happiness inequality has increased since the first report in almost all countries and regions of the world. Happiness, the authors argue, can provide a better indicator of human welfare than income, poverty, education, health, and good government measured separately.

The Happiness Index is based off a project from the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan in the Eastern Himalayas. Their prime minister, Jigmi Y. Thinley, was determined to measure the gross national happiness. He then got the United Nations to invite other nations to measure their happiness as a guide to improve public policies. In 2012 the worldwide report was born.

In the 2016 World Happiness Index—the third of its kind—researchers ranked 156 countries based off surveys given to up to 3,000 people in each country. Each person was asked to rank their answers based on the Cantril Ladder—an imaginary ladder of ten steps, with the best possible life for them being the tenth step and the worst possible life being zero steps.

Participants were asked six questions for respondents to rank that were weighed with the GDP per capita: social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, perception of corruption, and everything else. The answers are then averaged per country, giving insight to the country with the happiest people by their own accord.

On a smaller scale, we asked ourselves how Oregonians can increase their equality of happiness. Based on the questions from the World Happiness Index, here are some sites and activities that we hope will enhance your mind and body, your values and virtues, and fulfill social and cultural enrichment while enjoying what Oregon has to offer.

Activities for Oregon’s Happiness Index

Experience Zen
The Zen Community of Oregon is a Soto Zen Buddhist monastery in Clatskanie. They offer meditation through authentic Zen practice to the public several times a week, as well as meditation walks in their Zen gardens. A 2013 study by Carlos III Health Institute found that meditation provokes a different expression of brain metabolites, specifically those metabolites linked to anxiety and depression. Meditation shows a strong link with well-being because it calms the body, reduces stress and anxiety, and supports positive thinking.

Visit botanical gardens
The Oregon Garden in Silverton is an 80-acre botanical garden with more than 20 themed gardens, from tropical to wetlands to rose or conifer. They offer tram tours and self-guided walking tours to enjoy the outdoor oasis. Group nature walks are linked with significantly lower depression, less perceived stress, and enhanced mental health and well-being, according to a 2014 study conducted at the University of Michigan.

Enjoy waterfalls and hiking trails
Silver Creek Falls is nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and includes 9,200 acres of hiking, biking and horse trails. The Trail of Ten Falls weaves through a dense forested area, with a series of breathtaking waterfalls in a 7.2 mile loop. Research has shown that a 50-minute walk in nature can improve your mood, decrease your anxiety, and improve your memory. A 2016 study also showed that a 90-minute walk in a natural environment can lead to measurable changes in the brain, and help combat depression.

Observe exotic wildlife
The Wildlife Safari in Winston is a one-of-a-kind experience. The park has over 76 species, most of which roam free as you drive a 600-acre safari loop. You can see exotic creatures from around the world including tigers, giraffes, zebras, lions, elephants, bison, ostrich, and bears. A Hiroshima University study focused on animal-people interaction concluded that “cuteness” not only makes us happier, it also improves our performance on tasks that require behavioral carefulness.

Walk below the canopy
Valley of the Giants is a 51-acre forest preserve in a remote portion of the Oregon Coast Range. Getting more than 180 inches of rain each year, douglas firs and western hemlocks date back hundreds of years and can stand at a regal 200 feet. Numerous studies have shown trees help people live longer, healthier, happier lives—to the tune of $6.8 billion in averted health costs annually in the U.S., according to research published in the 2014 journal Environmental Pollution.

Discover the mystery
The House of Mystery in Gold Hill is considered a vortex in which strange phenomena on the landscape create optical illusions. Objects seem to roll uphill, relative height can change next to another person depending on where you stand, and structures appear to be sideways. Research by psychologist Rich Walker of Winston-Salem State University showed people who engage in a variety of experiences are more likely to retain positive emotions and minimize negative ones than people who have fewer experiences.

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