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Who Is Happy?

Who Is Happy?

From the Archives

Romantic Mature Couple Enjoying at Sunset on the Beach, Who Is Happy? In what country do the happiest people live? The least happy? In a study of 41 nations, scientists found that life satisfaction varies on a 10-point scale from a high of 8.39 reported in Switzerland to a low of 5.03 reported in Bulgaria. The United States came in 9th happiest, with a score of 7.71.

Here are some interesting trends:

  • Happiness is strongly correlated with a country’s economic wealth, but not always. Japan, a relatively rich country, ranked 27th out of 41 in this poll. Chile, a relatively poor country, ranked 13th happiest.
  • Individualist countries report higher well-being than collectivist countries.
  • Interestingly, happier countries experience both more divorces and more suicides. The explanation for this is the costs and benefits of personal freedom and emotional expressions heavily weight the well-being rating in individualist countries, while collectivist countries put more emphasis on collective social ties. The social support in an extended family of a collectivist culture tends to reduce suicide rates. Correspondingly, in collectivist cultures, there is less freedom to divorce and more social pressure to stay together in marriage, reducing the number of divorces.
  • Interpersonal trust correlates with well-being.
  • Population density was found NOT to predict or relate to with well-being. Also, the homogeneity of the people within a country (same religion, race, etc) was found to have no relationship with well-being.

Are there measurement challenges in a study like this? On the downside, people can sometimes be affected by their immediate moods. They also might tend to inflate their happiness due to social pressures – a keeping up with the Jones’s mentality.

On the upside, scientists have performed many tests to validate these results against other similar measures, such as self-esteem, optimism, self-efficacy, and depression. For me, the biggest measurement question is what makes up a 10 in one person’s mind might be completely different than what makes up a 10 in my mind. Nevertheless, this is the best science has to offer us right now.

Here are the five least happy countries from that 1994 study: Bulgaria, Russia, Belarus, Latvia, and Romania. The five happiest: Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, and Canada.

(Source: Diener, Ed and Suh, Eunkook Mark. (1999). National Differences in Subjective Well-Being. In Kahneman, Daniel, Diener, Ed, and Schwarz, Norbert (Eds.), Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology, New York: Russell Sage Foundation.)

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