THE BLOG
09/16/2013 12:59 pm ET | Updated Nov 16, 2013

Why Is America Not Really Happy?

America is a country home to some of the richest and most successful people in the world. A country that leads the world in trends, that gave birth to Google, and that introduced the world to Facebook. Go to any city in the world and you'll probably hear an American pop star on the radio. Start a conversation with someone anywhere outside of America and they will most likely bring up the name of an American movie star or athlete during a conversation.

Why is a country that has so much success and leads the world in trends not the happiest country in the world? According to the World Happiness Report, America ranks 17 out of 156 countries in the area of happiness.

Why is happiest not a trend in America?

I live in a country where the accumulation of personal wealth is more important than personal happiness and the happiness of others. Turn on the television or look in a magazine and you see all types of examples of financial success, from baseball players getting a several-hundred-million-dollar contract, to an American billionaire on the cover of Forbes magazine. People care more about their own personal material gains than they do about the happiness of others. I don't think there's anything wrong with working hard or making money; I would just like to see more people focusing on happiness.

For thousands of years human beings communicated with each other. They didn't spend their entire life accumulating material objects. They didn't spend their entire life staring at a smart phone. They didn't spend their entire life trying to get a nicer car than their neighbor. They didn't look at magazine covers and try to emulate an unattainable body style by working out thousands of hours and radically changing their eating habits.

Happiness starts with not working so many hours a week that you don't make it home to spend time with your spouse and children. Happiness starts with mindfully paying attention to the person you are speaking with and not focusing on your smartphone. Happiness starts with letting the person on the freeway merge in during bumper to bumper traffic. Happiness starts with turning off your laptop when you're speaking with your child. Happiness starts with realizing that you are perfect the way you are.

Happiness is about saying something nice to a stranger, or helping them out.

When we are growing up we're told not to talk to strangers. I think we would live in a happier place if we talked to strangers. A person doesn't have to be Mother Theresa, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King Jr. to help a stranger. If you see someone in the parking lot of a convenient store struggling to lift a box in their car, say, "Can I help you with that?"

Let me give you advice on this: "Throw your first thought away." Most people's first thought is I'm too busy, I'll be late, they don't need my help, etc. This is what mindfulness is about; it helps you to recognize the selfish thoughts that you have that may prevent you from helping another person. By becoming more mindful of your thoughts you can positively influence people around you.

There are people that you encounter that can do absolutely nothing for you! You should talk to them anyway! Because they might be having a terrible day and you might cheer them up. If you cheer them up, they'll go home to their spouse or children and will be in a happy mood. It's a domino effect.

You have the capability of massively influencing someone's life just by speaking with them. Happiness is about having a strong emotional bond with other people around you. It's about really carrying for the well-being of another human being.

I went from pre-school all the way through to college in America, and I never took a course in "happiness" or how to cultivate positive emotions. I think learning how to be happy is more valuable than learning how to memorize a bunch of facts about the Fertile Crescent that you'll forget about anyways. I think learning how to understand emotions are the most valuable thing a student can learn in school. There are programs like Goldie Hawn's MindUP and CSAEL that are bringing programs into the education system and focus on social and emotional skills.

I think if America adopted the belief system that "Today I'm going to make another person happy," it would cause a ripple affect to every place in the world. A psychologist names James H. Fowler looked at data of 5,000 people in the period of over 20 years. He found that happiness influences people through three degrees, meaning friend of friends of friends. This influence also lasted an entire year.

Happiness is contagious, and it's capable of spreading like wildfire. I think happiness in America is possible for everyone. America is one of the most resilient countries in the world and is very open to radical change. Radical change starts with simply being mindful of the day-to-day interactions we have with each other.

For more by Robert Piper, click here.

For more on happiness, click here.