Society Insights

Sources of happiness (and consumption)

On a global level, research finds that people are less happy than before, a trend which could have a negative impact on consumer behavior.

The trend

In 2019, 64% of adults the world over reported that they were very happy or rather happy, a number that’s down from 2018 (70%), and much lower than in 2011 (77%). If we break this datum down by country, we find deep differences: in Canada and Australia, the percentage of self-declared happy adults is 86%; in China and the UK the figure is comparable (83%). But the number plummets to 47% for adults in Russia, 46% in Spain, and dips as low as 34% in Argentina. These data were published in the Ipsos Global Advisor Report The Global Happiness Study. What Makes People Happy Around the World, based on research carried out in 28 countries on five continents.

There are many primary sources of happiness, but the ones that emerge most clearly are immaterial and extra-economic factors: health and physical well-being (a primary source of happiness for 55% of adults around the world), relationships with their children and their partner (48% in both cases), and feeling that their life has meaning (47%). Yet economic aspects also play a prominent role, in particular as secondary sources of happiness. Having more money to spend, and personal financial situation are primary or secondary sources of happiness for respectively 84% and 83% of the adults surveyed in the study. Instead, respondents assign far less importance to their material possessions.

Bringing to bear the impact that the perception of happiness has on the economic and financial choices people make, the report draws a direct correlation between levels of happiness and consumer confidence. The happier people say they are, the more likely they are to show confidence and optimism as consumers. But here too there are notable differences that tie into geography. In various countries such as France, Belgium, and the UK, high levels of happiness do not translate into corresponding levels of consumer confidence. Vice versa, in emerging economies such as India and China (but in the US as well), levels of consumer confidence are very high, more than what we might expect if we only look at people’s perception of happiness.


The 2019 report includes social media for the first time as a potential source of happiness. Despite how ubiquitous these communication platforms are, no more than a quarter of the population in any given country considered social media as a primary source of happiness. (Turkey recorded the highest score on this item with 27%.) What’s more, only in certain emerging economies (such as China, India, and Turkey) the percentage tops the 50% mark of people who consider social media a potential source of happiness (primary or secondary).

With respect to 2011, the factors that people considered most important were how much free time they have (up 3 points overall) and moving to a different country (up 8%, from 36% to 44%), although this last item was the least often cited as a reason for happiness at a global level. In contrast, in the past eight years two other aspects lost ground: being a successful person, and the state of the economy (both down four points), likely a reflection of that fact that more time has passed since the major economic crisis in 2007-2008.

As far as Italy is concerned, only Spain recorded lower perceived levels of happiness. In fact, in the last eight years this figure dove by 16%, from 73% of Italians who said they were very happy or rather happy in 2011, to 57% today. Among the sources of happiness, worth noting is the importance that Italians attribute to having more money, which may be a reaction to the macro-economic challenges our country has been grappling with over the past decade.

Cosa rende felici le persone nel mondo