Happiest countries: The people & places series (1)

I’d like to share what I discovered about countries and what makes them tick in this series I have called “People & Places”.

While most researchers agree that happiness is subjective, it is most often measured by the country’s wealth. I must say that I have an allergic reaction to surveys that immediately use “happiest” and “richest” interchangeably or assume that the richest country is the happiest country. I do agree that any country where its people don’t have the basic needs e.g. security, food, shelter cannot be considered as happy in the first place. Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a person will not worry about self actualisation if they have nowhere to live for instance!

Does happiness equals wealth?

Denmark and its sister Scandinavian countries are usually at the top of the happiest countries list. Experts believe that their happiness comes from impeccable healthcare, quality education and the number of people who are thriving. I  came across a survey that broke down this ranking by including rating for:

  • % of people thriving
  • % of  people struggling
  • % of people suffering
  • daily experience rating (from 1  to 10)

Of course, Denmark was no 1 with over 80% of its population thriving and almost no one suffering. The final ranking appeared to ignore the daily experience rating, which for the most part resonated the other 3 criteria. However, I noticed that at least two countries in the Top 20 had daily experiences below 6 while some countries in the bottom 100 had daily experiences of more than 8! Does this boil down to expectation levels? Or perhaps what is often referred to as subjective life satisfaction?

A wealth of happiness

Interestingly, when daily experiences are accounted for, countries like Costa Rica and Dominican Republic come tops. I suspect that happiness can be made objective if one assumes that wealth brings joy. It can. But often, real happiness comes from the support system in the environment e.g. strong family networks and acceptance.

Strong family networks lead to happiness (photo courtesy of http://www.istockphoto.com)

Other surveys like one carried out by Ronald Inglehart from 1999 to 2004, use subjective wellbeing to rank happiest countries. By asking people:

Taking all things together, would you say you are: 1. Very happy, 2.  Rather happy, 3. Not very happy, or 4.  Not at all happy?

This survey saw countries like Nigeria and Mexico come tops. Overall, many people felt happy about the freedom to practice their religion for instance. When this question is combined with how satisfied folks are with life in general, many South American countries top the list including Puerto Rico. Denmark is also in the Top 3. So alas, Denmark is a happy country on all counts.

Taking from Peter to pay Paul

I think that happiness is a strong word and that it can be tied to too many abstract things in life for example, what you expected to achieve, what you perceive limits you etc. There is a sense of entitlement that is usually very strong in developed countries. When this “sense” is violated, it can bring unhappiness. Where Americans are saying, “Where’s my healthcare?”, poor countries will be happy to get any health aid from missionaries and aid workers. While I have concluded that wealth brings some degree of happiness, I also believe that working together to close the gap between the rich and the poor will foster happiness. Closing this gap will mean that:

  • Fewer people see limitations to their advancement in life
  • The wealth seems more evenly spread and hence may reduce resentment and crime

The developed world tries to do this with state benefits and fiscal policies that tax higher earners. It is no coincidence that Scandinavian countries have the highest tax rates in the world. I don’t know what effect this has on people’s happiness in general. The poor man may be happy but are we excluding the rich man who feels like the more he earns the more he has to give away? Then he strives to earn even more to keep more but more is taken from him instead. And so the cycle continues.

Conclusion

Happiness is based on one’s expectation of life. I have found more and more that happiness does not necessarily come from having lots of money. The more that is achieved, the more there is to achieve. And for me, the farther away I am from my values and…my core as I chase self actualization.

I choose happiness (photo courtesy of http://www.istockphoto.com)

In the search for this self actualisation, I start to lose what I have began to call “The luxury of being average”. Just knowing that friends and family love me as lil o’ me, average on all fronts becomes a difficult thing to know. It is this part of me that leads to me to research what makes countries happy. Afterall, countries are communities that have to support each other to survive. This is me exploring how the next phrase of my life could be happier in the somewhat unlikely event that someday I may just have the clothes on my back and my loved ones in a distance, cheering me on.


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Comments

  1. I’ve written on happiness ranking comparing human beings vs. animals
    http://flickrcomments.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/darwin-ranking/
    maybe you will be amused …

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  2. no not specialized in zoology but in philosophy, psychology, anthropology – and irony …

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  3. for me it is important, if music is there in a community.
    As a guitar player I like countries like Spain, UK, Ireland, USA,
    parts of Latin America. There are countries where they do not sing very much, when they are together. Can’t believe that they are really satisfied.

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  4. thanks, now you’ve inspired me to post
    http://flickrcomments.wordpress.com/2011/01/08/ranking-nations/
    RANKING NATIONS

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  5. Fascinating idea for a post!

    People in countries who have to scramble for their basic needs are not going to be as innovating, i.e. parts of Africa.

    It is unfortunate for humankind to equate happiness with money. But having lots of money just makes everything seem so easy. By lots, I mean oodles of millions.

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  6. Yes, if we could just find a way to close the gap- what a happy place the world will be :-). Thanks for stopping by.

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    • Look! China did a survey of 4,100 people (the quantity hardly constitutes the entire country) and concluded that the Chinese people hate life. The culprit, you ask? The dire economic crisis that they are having. http://politicallyillustrated.com/index.php?/news_page/d2/2046/

      I wasn’t out looking for stats, I promise. I just happened to be reading politically illustrated blog and saw this one on the sidebar. 🙂

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      • haha! I read the article- very interesting! I think it probably boils down to the “let down” factor aside from the economic crisis. The economy was growing astronomically and now it’s not growing like expected. And as you point out, 4,100 people is not even beginning to the surface in relation to how many people there are in China! Isn’t that less than 0.1% of the population? or am I doing my sums wrong ;-)?

        Like

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