In what seems an absurd paradox, new research suggests the happiest countries and the happiest states have the highest suicide rates.
Researchers from the University of Warwick and Hamilton College reviewed United States and international survey data on suicide decisions, including information from more than 2.3 million Americans.
The finding of unusually high suicide rates in happy places to live supports prior investigations made in other countries.
This new research found that a range of nations, including Canada, the United States, Iceland, Ireland and Switzerland, display relatively high happiness levels and yet also have high suicide rates. A comparison of U.S. states helped to reduce bias when comparing countries with different cultures.
Researchers discovered states with people who are generally more satisfied with their lives tended to have higher suicide rates than those with lower average levels of life satisfaction.
For example, the raw data showed that Utah is ranked first in life-satisfaction, but has the 9th highest suicide rate. Meanwhile, New York was ranked 45th in life satisfaction, yet had the lowest suicide rate in the country.
In an effort to determine the factors that may influence the surprising association, researchers adjusted for age, gender, race, education, income, marital status and employment status.
Even with these adjustments a very strong correlation between happiness levels and suicide rates persisted.
Investigators believe the counterintuitive relationship between happiness and suicide rates comes from the human characteristic of comparing oneself (and one’s life condition) to others.
According to one researcher, “Discontented people in a happy place may feel particularly harshly treated by life. Those dark contrasts may in turn increase the risk of suicide. If humans are subject to mood swings, the lows of life may thus be most tolerable in an environment in which other humans are unhappy.”
A fellow investigator concluded, “This result is consistent with other research that shows that people judge their well-being in comparison to others around them. These types of comparison effects have also been shown with regards to income, unemployment, crime, and obesity.”
The paper, titled “Dark Contrasts: The Paradox of High Rates of Suicide in Happy Places” will be published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.
Source: University of Warwick