What makes a good life?

The following is adapted from Blind spotGallup’s new book on the rise of misfortune that rulers haven’t seen.

While many things contribute to a good life, Gallup finds five aspects that all people have in common: their work, their finances, their physical health, their communities, and their relationships with family and friends. If you excel in each of these elements of well-being, chances are you will be successful in life.

Custom chart showing the five elements of well-being. Work, Social, Financial, Physical, Community.

To uncover these five elements, Gallup began by reviewing much of the vast literature on happiness and well-being. Search Google Scholar for “wellness” and you’ll find over 1.9 million scholarly articles; “happiness” brings in more than 2.7 million articles. A person cannot read every article in their life, so we focused on meta-analyses – which combine the results of multiple studies – and the studies that have had the greatest impact on the field of cancer research. welfare.

Then we conducted surveys. Many of them. To date, we have conducted approximately 5 million surveys in nearly 170 countries, or approximately 2 million interviews in the United States and 3 million worldwide. We’ve also conducted panel studies, which allow us to follow the same people over time to better understand what’s causing changes in well-being, such as economic collapse, job loss or death. a spouse.

The holistic nature of this work is crucial. Research conducted only in the West is under intense scrutiny – for good reason. These studies often include people who do not represent the whole world.

For example, people recruited to participate in American university research are usually students. This is problematic because American students are not representative of the world. In fact, they’re not even representative of young people across the United States.

This type of research is called “WEIRD,” which is an acronym for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. Many American academic studies rely only on participants who match these characteristics, but often claim that the research findings apply to everyone. The concept’s authors — Joe Henrich, Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan — caution: “We need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature based on data drawn from this particularly thin and rather unusual slice of humanity.”

Gallup’s wellness research is truly global, covering more than 98% of the world’s adult population. It includes nearly every ethnic group, religion, and income level and virtually every type of human experience in the world.

In each survey, we ask people how they see and Direct their lives. Their responses become the outcomes of interest in our analysis – meaning we look at other variables to see what would help us explain how their lives are going. When someone says “My life is a 10” or “I laughed and smiled a lot all day yesterday”, what else are they telling us? Are they physically active? Do they like their job? Do they have many friends? Or a combination of the three?

Indicators of well-being and happiness help us better understand what makes a good life.

Gallup’s research along with that of the global community of wellness practitioners has yielded hundreds, if not thousands, of discoveries.

One of the most famous discoveries is the U-curve of happiness, which shows how age is associated with well-being. Young people place great importance on their lives, as do older people. But middle-aged people rate their lives at the lowest. This trend continues every year in almost all countries of the world. It’s nicknamed the “U-curve” of happiness because when you look at the chart, it looks like a “U”. Some jokingly say that the card is smiling.

U-curve personalized graph of life satisfaction, ranging from 20 to 80 years.

Some discoveries are astonishing; others feel like they’re revealing a “bland, sophomoric secret,” as George Gallup referred to some of his longevity discoveries. For example, you might argue that the U-Curve of Happiness simply quantifies conventional wisdom – that people have midlife crises.

Here are some of the truly fascinating findings:

  • People who love their jobs don’t hate Mondays.
  • Education debt can leave an emotional scar that lingers even after paying off the debt.
  • Volunteering isn’t just good for the people you help; it’s also good for you.
  • Exercise is more effective in eliminating fatigue than prescription drugs.
  • Loneliness can double your risk of dying from heart disease.

We could list every idea ever produced from this research and encourage leaders to work on each one. Instead, we took another approach. Using all of this information from across the industry combined with our surveys and analysis, we have created the Five Elements of Wellbeing. And our ongoing global research confirms that the five elements of well-being are important drivers of a good life everywhere.

Find out how the world struggles the most in these five elements in Blind Spot: The Global Rise of Doom and How Leaders Missed It.


Jon Clifton is the CEO of Gallup.

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