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The Secrets to True Happiness

Is our modern definition of happiness all wrong?

Key points

  • Many Western nations are becoming unhappier, data suggests.
  • Research supports the notion that well-being goes beyond material wealth.
  • Our modern definition of happiness may have it all wrong.

The World Happiness Report recently celebrated its 12th birthday. Not surprisingly, Finland has once again topped the list as the happiest country on the planet for its seventh consecutive year.

Perhaps even less surprising is the sharp drop in happiness rates for the youngest recorded cohorts (aged 15-24) in North America with a similar downward tendency for that age group in Western Europe. After all, the pressures of social media, climate change, world politics, and uncertainty have made growing up that much harder, even in wealthy societies.

It appears that wealth alone does not boost our happiness levels. In fact, some of the happiest places in the world according to one report—the Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania—are all non-Western developing nations not known for their wealth and abundance. Perhaps there is something else going on here. These nations value family and social connections in ways other countries do not. In fact, human connection is the glue that keeps society—and ourselves—together.

According to one recent study by not-for-profit neuroscience research body Sapien Labs, London is considered the second unhappiest city in the world. While various research initiatives such as the Global Mind Project and the World Mental Health Survey Initiative rely on different methodologies, the details of capturing mental well-being are less important than the fact that happiness continues to be an important part of defining our quality of life.

And what if our definition of the very thing that makes our lives meaningful is completely different than what society has taught us to believe? What if happiness isn’t what we think it is?

Positive psychologist Stephanie Harrison claims we have gotten it all wrong. In her new book New Happy: Getting Happiness Right in a World That’s Got It Wrong, she states that much of what we have been told will bring us happiness is an outright lie—including perfection, financial success, and millions of Insta followers.

The true secret behind happiness is what she considers counterintuitive. In fact, it’s not about you at all. Helping others is a proven path to what Harrison terms the "new happy," the true definition of fulfillment and joy.

Harrison advises readers to disentangle themselves from the "old happy" that fixates on perfection and external accolades. While those are nice to have, they should not be the basis of your self-worth, which is intrinsic. In fact, you are not defined by your successes or failures, according to Harrison. Sharing our unique gifts and talents with the world will make us happy, no matter what comes of it. Plus, who are you to deny the world your happiness? Happiness is like love. The more you give it away, the more you will receive it.

Neuroscientist Nicole Vignola would agree. In her new release Rewire: Break the Cycle, Alter Your Thoughts and Create Lasting Change, she delves into the human mind and how we can find happiness and fulfillment. Pursuing hobbies, for instance, is a mood elevator and stress reducer, building what HBR contributor Gaetano DiNardi calls “creative confidence.” Vignola offers powerful ways to improve our well-being by breaking the drama cycle that often informs our lives. Reconnecting with self and others plays a big part in fostering mental health.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is well-known for his research on loneliness, having published a book in 2020 aptly titled Together. It appears our post-pandemic world is still reeling from the profound disconnection and greater reliance on technology in our daily lives. It may be time for us all to take up that hobby we have since neglected while sharing those talents—and love—with the world.


The World Happiness Report. (2024).

Price, R. (2024, March 10). UK second most miserable place in the world. The London Economic.….

Newson, J. (2024, March 1). A comparison of measures and methodologies of the global mind project, world mental health survey initiative & world happiness report - sapien labs: Neuroscience: Human brain diversity project. Sapien Labs | Neuroscience | Human Brain Diversity Project.….

Harrison, S. (2024). New happy: Getting happiness right in a world that’s got it wrong. TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Vignola, N. (2024). Rewire: Break the cycle, alter your thoughts and create lasting change. HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Why you should work less and spend more time on hobbies. Harvard Business Review. (2023, January 3).….

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