Some countries might not be happier than others after all

They certainly look happy in Norway.

Various indexes and studies have tried to work out where the happiest people live.

In the last World Happiness Report, Australia was rated the 9th happiest country, with Norway at the top of the rankings.

That study used six variables to judge happiness: income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust (measured by the absence of corruption in business and government).

However, the latest research from the Australian National University challenges the idea that some citizens of particular countries are happier than others.

“All things considered, happiness does not actually vary very much between nations,” says the study’s author, Dr Richard Burns from the ANU Research School of Population Health.

“Many of the reported happier nations, such as Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands often report rates of suicide and psychiatric distress that are in the top 15%–25% of the world’s nations.”

The findings of the research by Dr Burns suggests happiness can be improved if governments address inequalities, by improving the ratio between living wage and cost-of-living.

“The results showed that if government policy helped improve the capacity of people to live comfortably on their income, it could lead to an improvement in people’s happiness,” he says.

Dr Burns used a multi-national study of 43,000 people in 23 European countries using 11 different well-being indicators to examined how much happiness differed between nations. Indicators included vitality, self-esteem, purpose, trust and belonging, and life satisfaction.

He also investigated whether differences in happiness were more strongly attributed to factors between nations, or whether it was the differences between people within countries that influenced their happiness.

“Whether citizens in different nations are living with a sense of purpose, vitality and engagement, or of belonging to a community — strong indicators of people’s happiness — is really unrelated to the nation in which they live,” he says.

Of the 11 different well-being indicators measured, only one differed substantially between nations: life satisfaction.

“About 22% of respondents’ life satisfaction varied between nations, but this is not surprising,” Dr Burns says.

He says life satisfaction is often used as a measure of quality of life in economic, social and public health research, but it doesn’t provide a full picture of people’s happiness.

The research is published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.