More data on happiness in different countries

Maybe people in India aren’t so happy as we thought. The British Psychological Society Research Digest points to this press release:

Adrian White . . . analysed data published by UNESCO, the CIA, the New Economics Foundation, the WHO, the Veenhoven Database, the Latinbarometer, the Afrobarometer, and the UNHDR, to create a global projection of subjective well-being: the first world map of happiness. . . . The meta-analysis is based on the findings of over 100 different studies around the world, which questioned 80,000 people worldwide. . . . It is worth remembering that the UK is doing relatively well in this area, coming 41st out of 178 nations. Further analysis showed that a nation’s level of happiness was most closely associated with health levels (correlation of .62), followed by wealth (.52), and then provision of education (.51). The three predictor variables of health, wealth and education were also very closely associated with each other, illustrating the interdependence of these factors. There is a belief that capitalism leads to unhappy people. However, when people are asked if they are happy with their lives, people in countries with good healthcare, a higher GDP per captia, and access to education were much more likely to report being happy. We were surprised to see countries in Asia scoring so low, with China 82nd, Japan 90th and India 125th. These are countries that are thought as having a strong sense of collective identity which other researchers have associated with well-being. It is also notable that many of the largest countries in terms of population do quite badly. With China 82nd, India 125th and Russia 167th it is interesting to note that larger populations are not associated with happy countries.

My first thought upon reading this was amusement at the statement, “the UK is doing relatively well in this area, coming 41st out of 178 nations.” They’re so modest in the U.K.! Can you imagine someone in the U.S. being happy about being ranked 41st?

For a more scholarly take on all this, you can check out this article by Helliwell and Putnam and this article by Helliwell.

Here’s the map:


The 20 happiest nations in the World are:

1. Denmark
2. Switzerland
3. Austria
4. Iceland
5. The Bahamas
6. Finland
7. Sweden
8. Bhutan
9. Brunei
10. Canada
11. Ireland
12. Luxembourg
13. Costa Rica
14. Malta
15. The Netherlands
16. Antigua and Barbuda
17. Malaysia
18. New Zealand
19. Norway
20. The Seychelles

Other notable results include:

23. USA
35. Germany
41. UK
62. France
82. China
90. Japan
125. India
167. Russia

The three least happy countries were:

176. Democratic Republic of the Congo
177. Zimbabwe
178. Burundi

2 thoughts on “More data on happiness in different countries

  1. Skimming the top 20 results suggests that weather has no impact on happiness rankings whatsoever, either positive or negative. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, this does not surprise me much, but does emphasize an observation. "Happiness" in the summer is not the same as happiness in the winter. The feeling is quite different. It is not clear whether this indicates that different measures should be used or there is some way to put things on a common scale.

  2. An observation and a thought:

    The authors of this study do an impressive job of avoiding the ecological fallacy and other misinterpretations in describing their results. It's nice to see careful statements like "people in countries with good healthcare … were more likely to report being happy" and not "people with good healthcare … were more likely to be happy."

    Cultural differences might help explain the relatively low position of some Asian countries. How people say they feel and how people actually feel are two different things. If I had to guess, I'd say happy people might be less likely to say they're happy in countries like Japan where the dominant culture tends to value self-effacement.

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