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Doing the Right Thing Increases Happiness, Helps Humans Overcome Difficulties

Update Date: Jun 12, 2013 04:08 PM EDT

People really are happier when they do the right thing. 

A new study reveals that communities that stick together and help others cope better with crises and are happier. Researchers explain that part of the reason for this greater resilience is the fact that humans are not just social beings, but "pro-social" beings who experience happiness from doing things both with and for others.

The study, published in he Journal of Happiness Studies, examines the link between the social fabric of a community or nation and how the communities deal with crises and develop resources that maintain and improve people's happiness during difficult times.

"Communities and nations with better social capital, in other words, quality social networks and social norms as well as high levels of trust, respond to crises and economic transitions more happily and effectively," lead researcher John Helliwell, from the University of British Columbia in Canada, and his team wrote in the study.

Researchers first assessed the social capital and happiness during the recent economic crisis in 255 U.S. metropolitan areas. The found that overall social capital improved the nation's happiness during the period of economic crisis, both directly and indirectly by mitigating the impact of rising unemployment.

Helliwell and this team then expanded the research and looked at the national average happiness in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries after the 2008 financial crisis.

They found that communities with rising happiness include countries like South Korea, where people were less affected by the crisis and had policies that enhanced the well-being of its residents.

Countries with falling happiness include those worst hit by the original crisis and by its subsequent spillovers in the Euro zone.  Researchers said that social capital and other key supports for happiness were during the crisis and its aftermath in this group of countries.

The study also looked deeper into the relative roles of social capital and income as determinants of happiness, and found evidence from countries in economic transition demonstrates the power of social trust, i.e., the belief that generally speaking, most people can be trusted. Researchers said this is important because social trust is an indicator of the quality of a country's social capital, which increases happiness directly and softens the blows of external economic shocks.

The latest findings suggest that governments should make public policies that bring out the best in people to increase overall happiness.

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