Americans Are Less Happy; Can Politeness Help?

Did you know the United Nations publishes an annual World Happiness Report for most countries? Technically it’s based on a Life Satisfaction Survey conducted on a random basis of local citizens.

They ask questions like, “Are you very satisfied, satisfied or not satisfied with your career performance (or your country’s economy, your government, etc.)”.

Hmmm. This survey feels like a special kind of Olympics, competing for the gold or silver medal in emotional health.

Until this year, America’s happiness scores have internationally ranked in the top three. Last year it took a nose-dive to rank 14th.  Americans were not very happy.

Which countries ranked the happiest? Frigid Norway brrrr, then Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Switzerland and the Netherlands. We might wonder if their frigid weather forced them to spend more time at home working out family relationships, positively impacting their elevated happiness ratings.

But, why did Americans respond as being so unhappy last year?

Take a break in a coffee shop and politely overhear conversations. Are people generally more concerned, anxious, fearful and grumpy? Have you noticed people being less polite and courteous?

Politeness has a powerful effect on our ability to interact with others in a positive or negative way. So, what three elements might help us the most to improve our politeness?


Be happy

Oh go ahead, sing it! “Be Happy!”  

If we choose to, we can change our mind (thoughts) almost as easy as changing our shirt. Be happy, or be grumpy like one of the seven dwarfs; we’re only as happy as we make up our mind to be. That’s a choice.

Fact: Bad things are going to happen. James 3:2 tells us that we all stumble (offend) in many things. How are we going to respond to our own and others’ offenses?

A powerful first step is to make up our mind in advance to be happy and forgive no matter what. That will amazingly direct our interactions and immediately make us more polite.


Strengthen faith

Extensive educational research has been conducted to discover the causes of academic student success. Each education level (i.e., elementary through college) has special aspects impacting academic performance. However, one key aspect consistently appears at every level: belief.

Regardless of IQ, students who believe they can are right. Likewise, students who believe they cannot, are also usually right.

Parents have an amazing affect on kids’ ability to believe they can. There are so many success stories of a person pointing back to a teacher saying, “I did this good in life because they always believed in me when nobody else would!”

It is equally as important and affective to tell ourselves we can do it. Self-talk is powerful.

When our personal faith and belief is strengthened, we are far more likely to face each issue from a positive point of view. We immediately become more encouraging and polite.



As a teacher it’s sometimes necessary to search to FIND something praise-worthy. How should we respond to misbehavior? It’s always more helpful to say something like, “Wow! I appreciate the honesty and sincerity of your comment. It’s clear we agree that it’s very helpful to be open with one another. Let’s discuss this point a little together.” When the person is appreciated (even lightly praised) rather than treated like a bullish idiot (they may have acted that way), they’re often more willing to be civil and polite.

So, on our path to being more polite we first ask ourselves, “Am I happy today?” Intentionally happy is always more happy, and more polite.

Secondly, we check our belief and ask ourselves, “Do I really believe I can face my challenges today, and win?” Remember, solid research clearly reveals both the student who believes they can, and the one who believes they cannot, are right. Oh, it’s so much better to just believe we can, and go for it!

After we’ve decided to keep a happy outlook and believe we can deal with things positively, we make the decision to find good in others and praise them for it. It even helps them be more polite.

These three elements of politeness are deceptively simple and sometimes prayerfully challenging to accomplish. But oh, it’s worth it!

Steve Davis, Ed.S. is an education specialist and adjunct professor at Trinity International University. He writes about personal development and education and can be reached at [email protected].

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