World's Happiest Nations

World's Happiest Nations

Today in the world there is a strong need for the policies that take into account the things that really matter for people, not just GDP per capita, which as a whole could be named happiness or life satisfaction.

There exists rich evidence that these subjective evaluations of life have a significant impact on broad range of life outcomes, including material wealth, and for that reason they should be considered in determining strategic goals and policies. In order to facilitate this process, many initiatives from international organizations arise as an attempt to measure the level of happiness as well as to understand its main determinants.

One of such initiatives, the results of which are presented on the dashboard below, is World Happiness Report 2013 (WHR) - the second study conducted by experts from Columbia University's Earth Institute on the basis of international survey by the Gallup World Poll in 160 countries which provides the sample of 1000 respondents per country through the 8-year time horizon.

Since the word "happiness" can be interpreted at least in two ways: happiness in the sense of life evaluation (or life satisfaction) and happiness as an emotion, in the WHR there are several measures of happiness: Cantril ladder as a proxy for overall life evaluation (see the detailed descriptions of variables in the text box below), negative and positive affect as a proxies for recent good or bad feelings and happiness (yesterday) as a measure of emotional aspect of happiness. As it can be seen from bubble chart below there is strong positive relation between happiness as an emotion and happiness as life evaluation bringing an idea that they complement each other. However, the former is much more weekly explained by the main determinants of overall life satisfaction: having someone to count on in times of trouble (or social support), freedom to make life choices, perceptions of corruption, donation, generosity, GDP per capita and healthy life expectancy - finding that supports an idea that life evaluations are more closely related to life circumstances than the emotions are.

Basing on the trends in the overall life evaluation between 2005-2007 and 2010-2012 it could be said that the world as a whole has become a bit happier during past five years even in spite of negative impact of the world financial crisis that, nevertheless, affected negatively the countries of Western Europe who faced a reduction in life satisfaction. Decline is also noted across the nations of Middle East and North Africa where political and social instability impose its negative affect. At the same time countries of Latin America and the Caribbean and Sub Saharan Africa experienced notable improvement in the quality of life through the period under consideration. Across Europe there are also different cross-currencies, thus, top-5 countries by overall happiness are from northern Europe, they are: Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands and Sweden.

To conclude, it is worth notice that judgment that happiness is determined mostly by material conditions and consumption is the spirit of modern times, which is not as true as, for example, Aristotle’s virtue, which is unfairly ignored. But it should be understood that, while concept of virtue ethics could be implemented into the strategy to increase happiness in community in practice, it is still very difficult to measure via traditional statistical tools, so the existing studies contribute significantly to the moving towards happiness oriented policy.

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