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Welcome to The Highlight’s Happiness Issue

What we might learn from other cultures, the explosion of positive psychology, why women are growing more unhappy, and how to spend to maximize joy.

Jordan Kay for Vox

The news was dire.

This spring, despite our best efforts — despite all that yoga and meditation and therapy and astrological consultation and turmeric and that slightly worrisome addiction to self-affirming memes — levels of happiness in the United States dropped for the third straight year, according to the World Happiness Report, the United Nations’ annual barometer of global good times. In the country rankings, America slumped to 19. Now it is sandwiched below Canada, and safely above France.

Noah Camp for Vox

The data on happiness is sparse, and the metrics by which we’re measured new; the World Happiness Report was introduced less than a decade ago and cobbles together survey answers to arrive at its results. But it illuminates a truth: We are failing at the thing so fundamental to Americanness that we made its pursuit a cornerstone of our founding document. If there is a happiness nadir, this seems to be it.

So in this issue of The Highlight, Vox’s home for features and longform journalism, we’re looking closely at the notion of being happy.

Are we woefully limited in our definition of well-being, and could a few words from other cultures help? And how did the ideas of resilience, achievement, and “flourishing” become benchmarks for happiness in just 20 years since the field of positive psychology was born?

We also look at how experts say you can spend money to enhance your general levels of well-being (trust us: spend to save yourself time) and investigate why women’s happiness continues to lag behind men’s — in a comic.

By shining a light on the universal struggle to ease our growing dissatisfaction, maybe we can lead to a little more well-being in the world.

An animated illustration of words in various languages, including nirvana, ubuntu, hygge, and happy. Jordan Kay for Vox

American happiness is plummeting. Could a few words change that?

A psychologist claims that learning “untranslatable words” from other cultures may be a key to being happy. I experimented on myself to see whether it’s true.

by Sigal Samuel

Gaye Gerard/Getty Images

Happiness psychology is a booming industry. But is it science, religion, or something else?

Just over 20 years old, the field of positive psychology has captivated the world with its hopeful promises — and drawn critics for its moralizing, mysticism, and commercialization.

by Joseph Smith

Aubrey Hirsch

The other gender gap

After decades of women’s rights gains, why are women less happy?

by Aubrey Hirsch

Illustration of a stack of one hundred dollar bills with a yellow smiley face pin over the portrait of Benjamin Franklin. Zac Freeland/Vox

How to spend money to squeeze more joy out of life

Simply having a lot of it won’t automatically increase your sense of well-being. “But using it well can,” says one expert.

by Laura Entis

Future Perfect

Our love of orcas is making them miserable


Mud libraries hold the story of the Earth’s climate past — and foretell its future


How to talk to a loved one about their health

View all stories in The Highlight