Everything You Need To Know About Happiness In The World

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Photo: defleppking via Flickr

Unemployment can cause as much unhappiness as bereavement or separation, according to the World Happiness Report, published by Columbia University’s Earth Institute and co-edited by Nobel laureate Jeffrey Sachs.The report found that the happiest countries in the world are all in Northern Europe with Denmark topping the list.

Meanwhile the least happy countries are in the poor regions of sub-Saharan Africa.

The report looks at how happiness is measured and examines some of its policy implications. We read through the groundbreaking report and pulled the most interesting findings about happiness.

The happiest countries in the world are all in Northern Europe

The happiest countries in the world namely Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Netherlands are all in Northern Europe. Their average life evaluation score is 7.6 on a scale from 0 to 10.

Source: The Earth Institute, Columbia University

The least happy countries are all poor countries in Sub-Saharan Africa

The least happy countries are all poor countries in Sub-Saharan Africa namely Togo, Benin, Central African Republic, and Sierra Leone with average life evaluation scores of 3.4.

Source: The Earth Institute, Columbia University

But happiness is measured by more than money. Community, religion, and health play big roles.

  • The key external factors that determine happiness include income, work, community and governance, and values and religion.
  • The personal features that determine happiness include mental health, physical health, family experience, education, and gender and age.
  • Sometime there is a two-way interaction between the determinant and happiness itself. For instance health affects happiness and conversely happiness affects health.

Source: The Earth Institute, Columbia University

Of course, Income is always a factor in explaining happiness, but it isn't the most important thing

  • In 1974 Richard Easterlin wrote a seminal article which found that richer people are on average happier than poorer people (a cross-sectional fact) but that over time within different societies the population does not on average become happier when they country's income rises (a time-series fact). This came to be known as the Easterlin paradox.
  • Income is not the most important factor in determining happiness.
  • Relative income i.e. income relative to others of the same age, sex, education is the only one that matters when it comes to happiness. Absolute income is not that important.

Source: The Earth Institute, Columbia University

Unemployment causes as much unhappiness as separation or bereavement

  • People experience a sharp drop in well-being when they are unemployed. Unemployment causes as much unhappiness as bereavement or separation.
  • High unemployment impacts the happiness not just on the families of the unemployed but also those in work who feel less secure in their jobs.
  • The quality of work is extremely important to happiness. Respondents from OECD countries were asked to rank eight different job characteristics on a five point scale from not at all important to very important. Only 20 per cent of respondents from OECD countries said a high income is very important, 60 per cent said job security is very important, while 50 per cent said interest work is very important.

Source: The Earth Institute, Columbia University

Trust, freedom, equality and social interactions increase happiness

  • Individual happiness comes from a set of social interactions, and trust plays a huge role. In a well-functioning society there is a high level of trust between citizens and between institutions.
  • Bonding capital i.e. people who are similar to one another and bridging capital i.e. people who are different impacts life satisfaction and happiness. 'We want both - not only good social capital within communities but also good links between communities.'
  • Freedom is a key component to happiness.
  • Equality plays a huge role in happiness because greater equality is associated with reduced social tensions, especially when the inequality is seen as unfair. Also, the value of extra income is greater for the rich than the poor.

Source: The Earth Institute, Columbia University

In countries where life is harder, those who are more religious report more positive emotions

  • About 68 per cent of adults across the world say that religion is important in their daily lives. Religious belief and practice is more common in countries where life is harder. In the U.S. religious is belief is higher in states where life is harder.
  • While there is no difference in life satisfaction between more and less religious countries, in countries where life is harder there is significantly more positive emotion and less negative emotion among those who are more religious.

Source: The Earth Institute, Columbia University

Values, certain behaviours and the environment play important roles in happiness

  • Many values taught by religion are reinforced by society through more secular systems. Altruism and kindness have shown happiness in both the giver and the receiver.
  • Most ethical systems also teach that material wealth should not be pursued beyond the point where it compromises other values. At a given level of income, people who cared more about their income were less happy with life overall.
  • All other things equal, watching television is also associated with lower happiness.This is because its reduces social life and increases exposure to violence. But television can provide enjoyment and instruction.
  • The environment also plays a crucial part in happiness. Green spaces are associated with better health, performance and life satisfaction.

Source: The Earth Institute, Columbia University

Mental and physical health both have huge impacts on happiness

  • 'Happiness depends crucially on personality, and personality is strongly affected by your genetic make-up.' One important way in which in genes operate is through mental health
  • Those who are mentally ill as adolescents are more likely to experience low earnings, unemployment, criminal records, teenage pregnancy, physical illness and poor educational performance than others in the population.
  • Panel data allows comparisons of the life-satisfaction of the same individuals before and after they become disabled. The impact effect of severe disability is estimated as being 0.6 points on the one to seven life satisfaction scale, and that of moderate disability as 0.4 points.
  • Adaptation to disability also impacts life-satisfaction, and someone who has been disabled for all of the past three years is less affected than someone who is recently disabled. This adaptation is estimated at around 50 per cent for moderate disability and 30 per cent for severe disability.

Source: The Earth Institute, Columbia University

Having children is no guarantee of happiness

  • Being married rather than single, divorced or widowed is strongly associated with higher self-declared happiness. In most countries married people are happier with their life than those who cohabit with a partner.
  • Studies have shown that individuals who are already happier when they are young have a higher probability of becoming and remaining married. And getting married also boosts happiness if only for some years. But leisure and social activities of one's spouse can reduce life satisfaction in the other spouse.
  • Life satisfaction is said to peak in the years before and after marriage. For those who never get divorced, happiness is permanently higher than before they were married.
  • Moreover having children is no guarantee of higher happiness.

Source: The Earth Institute, Columbia University

Education indirectly affects happiness through higher income and better healthcare

  • Education is indirectly related to happiness because it increases income and income increases happiness. Longer years of education are associated with increased employability and job security.
  • The direct effect of education on happiness is mixed and varies between countries.

Source: The Earth Institute, Columbia University

In most developed countries women are happier than men

  • In most advanced countries women report higher life satisfaction and happiness than men. But the results are smaller or reversed in non-industrial countries.
  • Women are happier in countries where gender rights are equal.

Source: The Earth Institute, Columbia University

Let's take another look at the least happiest places

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