Tuesday, January 01, 2008

HAPPY New Year 2008 from EU Pundit : But What is Happiness Around the Globe? Money, Culture, Social Relationships and the Science of Well-Being

We have posted previously about happiness at our blog LawPundit, including Happiness Is ... Living in the Right Country and it has been the subject of other bloggers, such as The Countess, who writes:

"... the Dalai Lama said, "I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we are all seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is toward happiness...""

If we are to believe Daniel Kahneman, via Marginal Revolution, Nobel Prize winner in Economics in 2002, writing at Edge, then there is a very strong correlation between happiness and wealth (material prosperity), quite contrary to the old saw that money will not make you happy:

"Humans everywhere, from Norway to Sierra Leone, apparently evaluate their life by a common standard of material prosperity, which changes as GDP increases. The implied conclusion, that citizens of different countries do not adapt to their level of prosperity, flies against everything we thought we knew ten years ago. We have been wrong and now we know it. I suppose this means that there is a science of well-being, even if we are not doing it very well."

Seen on a very broad scale, material prosperity is of course important to happiness. People on the brink of starvation or suffering from serious health problems are not going to be as happy as if they were healthy. This is shown by Adrian White's Satisfaction with Life Index (shown at Wikipedia):

"The concept of happiness, or satisfaction with life, is currently a major area of research in economics and psychology, most closely associated with new developments in positive psychology. It has also become a feature in the current political discourse in the UK."

International Ranking (2006)

Rank Country SWL Rank Country SWL
1 Denmark 273.33 90 Japan 206.67
1 Switzerland 273.33 90 Yemen 206.67
3 Austria 260 92 Portugal 203.33
3 Iceland 260 93 Sri Lanka 203.33
5 The Bahamas 256.67 94 Tajikistan 203.33
6 Finland 256.67 95 Vietnam 203.33
7 Sweden 256.67 96 Iran 200
8 Bhutan 253.33 97 Comoros 196.67
9 Brunei 253.33 98 Croatia 196.67
10 Canada 253.33 99 Poland 196.67
11 Ireland 253.33 100 Cape Verde 193.33
12 Luxembourg 253.33 101 Kazakhstan 193.33
13 Costa Rica 250 102 South Korea 193.33
14 Malta 250 103 Madagascar 193.33
15 Netherlands 250 104 Bangladesh 190
16 Antigua and Barbuda 246.67 105 Republic of the Congo 190
17 Malaysia 246.67 106 The Gambia 190
18 New Zealand 246.67 107 Hungary 190
19 Norway 246.67 108 Libya 190
20 Seychelles 246.67 109 South Africa 190
21 Saint Kitts and Nevis 246.67 110 Cambodia 186.67
22 United Arab Emirates 246.67 111 Ecuador 186.67
23 United States 246.67 112 Kenya 186.67
24 Vanuatu 246.67 113 Lebanon 186.67
25 Venezuela 246.67 114 Morocco 186.67
26 Australia 243.33 115 Peru 186.67
27 Barbados 243.33 116 Senegal 186.67
28 Belgium 243.33 117 Bolivia 183.33
29 Dominica 243.33 118 Haiti 183.33
30 Oman 243.33 119 Nepal 183.33
31 Saudi Arabia 243.33 120 Nigeria 183.33
32 Suriname 243.33 121 Tanzania 183.33
33 Bahrain 240 122 Benin 180
34 Colombia 240 123 Botswana 180
35 Germany 240 124 Guinea-Bissau 180
36 Guyana 240 125 India 180
37 Honduras 240 126 Laos 180
38 Kuwait 240 127 Mozambique 180
39 Panama 240 128 Palestinian Authority 180
40 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 240 129 Slovakia 180
41 United Kingdom 236.67 130 Myanmar 176.67
42 Dominican Republic 233.33 131 Mali 176.67
43 Guatemala 233.33 132 Mauritania 176.67
44 Jamaica 233.33 133 Turkey 176.67
45 Qatar 233.33 134 Algeria 173.33
46 Spain 233.33 135 Equatorial Guinea 173.33
47 Saint Lucia 233.33 136 Romania 173.33
48 Belize 230 137 Bosnia and Herzegovina 170
49 Cyprus 230 138 Cameroon 170
50 Italy 230 139 Estonia 170
51 Mexico 230 140 Guinea 170
52 Samoa 230 141 Jordan 170
53 Singapore 230 142 Syria 170
54 Solomon Islands 230 143 Sierra Leone 166.67
55 Trinidad and Tobago 230 144 Azerbaijan 163.33
56 Argentina 226.67 145 Central African Republic 163.33
57 Fiji 223.33 146 Macedonia 163.33
58 Israel 223.33 147 Togo 163.33
59 Mongolia 223.33 148 Zambia 163.33
60 São Tomé and Príncipe 223.33 149 Angola 160
61 El Salvador 220 150 Djibouti 160
62 France 220 151 Egypt 160
63 Hong Kong 220 152 Burkina Faso 156.67
64 Indonesia 220 153 Ethiopia 156.67
65 Kyrgyzstan 220 154 Latvia 156.67
66 Maldives 220 155 Lithuania 156.67
67 Slovenia 220 156 Uganda 156.67
68 Taiwan 220 157 Albania 153.33
69 East Timor 220 158 Malawi 153.33
70 Tonga 220 159 Chad 150
71 Chile 216.67 160 Côte d'Ivoire 150
72 Grenada 216.67 161 Niger 150
73 Mauritius 216.67 162 Eritrea 146.67
74 Namibia 216.67 163 Rwanda 146.67
75 Paraguay 216.67 164 Bulgaria 143.33
76 Thailand 216.67 165 Lesotho 143.33
77 Czech Republic 213.33 166 Pakistan 143.33
78 Philippines 213.33 167 Russia 143.33
79 Tunisia 213.33 168 Swaziland 140
80 Uzbekistan 213.33 169 Georgia 136.67
81 Brazil 210 170 Belarus 133.33
82 China 210 171 Turkmenistan 133.33
83 Cuba 210 172 Armenia 123.33
84 Greece 210 173 Sudan 120
85 Nicaragua 210 174 Ukraine 120
86 Papua New Guinea 210 175 Moldova 116.67
87 Uruguay 210 176 Democratic Republic of the Congo 110
88 Gabon 206.67 177 Zimbabwe 110
89 Ghana 206.67 178 Burundi 100


Nevertheless, Kahneman's remarks surely oversimplify the issue in thinking that happiness can all be narrowed down to facts and figures, or that happiness would be the same everywhere if everyone had the same material prosperity, which flies in the face of the experience of all of us, that there are many happy people of modest means and many unhappy people of great means.

As Ed Diener and Shigehiro Oishi write in The Nonobvious Social Psychology of Happiness:

"Bradburn (1969), in his classic seminal work on well-being, found that social relationships were one of the strongest correlates of positive emotions.... Newer evidence now suggests that close social relationships are not simply correlates of well-being, but may have causal force.... Many people focus on wealth when they pursue happiness, but research on social relationships suggests that they can be more important than material prosperity to subjective well-being. The word needs to be spread – it is important to work on social skills, close interpersonal ties, and social support in order to be happy. It is a mistake to value money over social relationships. For instance, we found that students who value money more than love are dissatisfied with their lives...."

Take a look at the happiness quotes found at many pages on the Internet, e.g. Wisdom Quotes.

Our own favorite quotation in this regard is from Abraham Lincoln, because we think that expectations determine happiness on a day to day basis. Abe said (quoted here from Quote World):

"People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be."

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