Happiness and Government Around the World
Happiness might be determined by geography.
Adrian White and colleagues at Leicester University’s School of Psychology analyzed data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other databases to create a global perspective of well-being. The “happiest place on earth” turns out to be Denmark, followed closely by Switzerland and Austria. Zimbabwe and Burundi ranked at the bottom. The United States came in 23rd.
A nation’s health levels were most closely associated with happiness, followed by gross domestic product (GDP) and education. The researchers say that while these measures of happiness are not perfect, they are the best we have so far, and politicians now are talking of using them to measure the relative performance of each country and changes in its happiness due to war, famine or national success.
Life satisfaction currently is a hot topic in economics and psychology.
“There is a belief that capitalism leads to unhappy people,” White said. “However, when people are asked if they are happy with their lives, people in countries with good health care, a higher GDP per capita, and access to education were much more likely to report being happy.”
Researchers were surprised to see Asian countries scoring so low, with Japan 90th and India 125th. Both countries are thought to have a strong national identity, which previously has been associated with well-being.
Following the map’s publication, researchers led by Professor Kaare Christensen of the University of Southern Denmark set out to discover the reasons for such a high level of happiness in their country. The team reported in a recent edition of the British Medical Journal that based on surveys spanning more than 30 years, more than two-thirds of Danes are ‘very satisfied’ with their lives.
But why are Danes happier than people in Sweden and Finland? The team looked for an answer in literature, statistics, and common knowledge. Prowess in sports is one of their suggestions. They note that Denmark bested Germany in the 1992 European football championships and that this “put Danes in such a state of euphoria that the country has not been the same since.” In fact, they found that life satisfaction reached a plateau in Denmark after 1992.