Recently there have been several  studies comparing the overall satisfaction of people in different countries and overtime. Life is more or less a struggle for happiness so I think these results are extremely relevant to anyone who considers themselves human. (If you doubt that statement please feel free to state your opinion in a comment below and I will be glad to argue!) The results of these studies are not exactly what you expect. Yes, the GDP of the country does play a large part in determining the overall happiness but other forces are at work here.

**Teaser: The USA is not in the top 5. Nor the top 10. Nor the top 15.


How Results Were Gathered

People were asked two questions:

1) “Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, rather happy, not very happy, not at all happy?”

2) “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?”

The Results:

Country — Mean Happiness Index (HPI)

  1. Denmark — 4.24
  2. Puerto Rico — 4.21
  3. Colombia — 4.18
  4. Iceland — 4.15
  5. N Ireland — 4.13
  6. Ireland — 4.12
  7. Switzerland — 3.96
  8. Netherlands — 3.77
  9. Canada — 3.76
  10. Austria — 3.68
  11. El Salvador — 3.67
  12. Malta — 3.61
  13. Luxemburg — 3.61
  14. Sweden — 3.58
  15. New Zealand — 3.26
  16. U.S.A. — 3.55
  17. Guatemala — 3.53
  18. Mexico — 3.52
  19. Norway — 3.50
  20. Belgium — 3.40

Least Happy Countries

Ukraine — (-1.69)
Belarus — (-1.74)
Moldova — (-1.74)
Armenia — (-1.80)
Zimbabwe — (-1.92)

**The negative HPI means that not only are the people not very happy, they are on average very unhappy.


What We Can Take From This

1) Among the 52 countries with substantial amounts of date between 1981 to 2007, 40 countries had much higher Happiness Indexes in 2007. Only 12 had become less happy. Even newer findings from the World Values Surveys have shown that in fact happiness has increases in most countries.

This came as a major shock so social scientists as it had been previously believed that was almost impossible to raise a nation’s happiness level. They thought that while an individual may become happier at a later point in his/her life, that rise would be balanced out by someone else feeling less happy than they had before. There had been the idea of the world being on a kind of ‘hedonic treadmill’ where no matter how hard one tries, their happiness always remains in the same place. I see the striking down of this dismal theory as a major symbol of optimism for our world and future.

Our world is getting happier! Isn’t that a great thing?

2) The director of the World Values Survey, Ronald Inglehart, stated, “The results clearly show that the happiest societies are those that allow people the freedom to choose how to live their lives.” This is why leniant countries like Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Canada and the Netherlands are in the top ten happiest countries. Freedom is the only more imporant factor than wealth in determining the happiness of a certain country.  Although it can be argued that if a society is wealthy, they inevitably have more freedom to do what they want to do in life.

3) Inglehart also said, “Moreover, the most effective way to maximize happiness seems to change with rising levels of economic development. In subsistence-level societies, happiness is closely linked with in-group solidarity, religiosity and national pride. At higher levels of economic security, free choice has the largest impact on happiness.”

Thus even countries that are experiencing mass poverty have the ability to become substantially more happy through nationalism, religious belief and togetherness. I personally hate organized religion in all of its forms; however, if I worked 18 hours a day just to be able to eat, believing that God loves me would sound very appealing.


Conclusion

It is idealistic at the least to think that the leaders of the world will look at these statistics and implement policies aimed at increasing happiness, but hey, one can dream. I think it’s awesome that we’ve been on that we’ve been on the right track for the past few decades.

With more impoverished countries growing economically and more freedoms being allowed every year, it seems as though our global happiness can only increase in the next century. And if all goes to hell… well just move to Denmark.

Source: University of Michigan