Happiness…at a national level

Happiness…at a national level

I argued in my last post that the secret of happiness is what we contribute to others rather than what we get for ourselves. Strangely when one compares happiness among countries, a different picture emerges. Creature comforts – what we get for ourselves – are critical.

Strictly speaking, countries cannot be happy or sad. A happy country is one in which the typical individual professes themselves to be very happy. Happy countries are places in which basic needs are satisfied and it is possible to lead a long healthy life.

How does one account for the contradiction of health and wealth being crucial for happiness when we do country comparisons but being far less important when we compare individuals within a country?

One way of thinking about this is in terms of the success of countries in satisfying basic human needs. Countries in which a lot of people are hungry or sick from infectious diseases like malaria or HIV/AIDS are not happy places. In this context, sub-Saharan Africa is not exactly a barrel of laughs.

If one has a lot of people who are miserable because they are hungry, or suffer from repeated bouts of illness, a country cannot be happy. That is why countries such as Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone are among the less happy places on the globe.

As countries develop, they place more emphasis on sanitation, clean drinking water, child nutrition, and immunization programs. Taken together, such public health practices have a huge impact on health and life expectancy. Unfortunately, many of the central governments around the world remain too weak to effect such improvements in the daily lives of their citizens. Beset by diseases, in addition to civil wars and crimes of violence, it is impossible for residents to be happy.

Once a country develops to the point that its central government can solve such problems, there is a large boost in well being. Interestingly, once this threshold is passed, further increases in wealth do not contribute much to happiness.

Among developed countries, the wealthiest countries are not the happiest ones. This point emerges from an OECD report released this May based on data collected by the Gallup organization.

The wealthiest country, Norway, ranked just ninth in happiness out of 30 developed countries, suggesting that wealth is not a guarantee of happiness. On the other hand, the three happiest countries, Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands (ranking first, second and third, respectively) had low unemployment rates of 2 percent, 2.6 percent and 4.5 percent respectively.

Read more about happiness in different countries from Psychology Today – click here