Thai Smile

The Thai smile: #52 on the World Happiness Ranking. Photo by Mr. Alexander.

It turns out the marketers are right: money does buy happiness. Well, almost.

This is according to the Earth Institute’s World Happiness Report which was commissioned by — get this — the UN Conference on Happiness.

Scandinavian countries are heavily represented at the top of the rankings with Denmark at #1.  The US is decent at #11, but apparently our happiness, like our wealth, is not ideally distributed.  China, which ranked in the bottom third, decided to ban all mention of the report out of embarrassment.  Plenty of African countries are clustered at the bottom as well.

The report pointed out a seemingly obvious thing: that wealth (as measured by per capita income) really does make people happier.   But it also drew attention to the fact that numerous other factors are important, such as economic stability, social cohesion, and support for good health.  Societies with high levels of trust and altruism — including by the wealthy towards the poor — are also happier.  I hasten to add that deception increases unhappiness, so marketers should think about the social implications of their truth-stretching.

Also interesting were some metrics in Chapter 2 how individual scores compare to country averages.  The coefficients imply some interesting facts:

  • Unemployment is one of the biggest sources of profound unhappiness — and the self-employed usually aren’t that happy either
  • Women are happier than men
  • Good health — both physical and mental — is incredibly important to one’s overall  happiness
  • Married people are happier than the single, but not much happier than the divorced after 2-3 years
  • People with children are slightly unhappier than the childless, and more children means more unhappiness
  • Education matters not at all!  (So much for all those good grades.)

There’s a lot in the report, but if you’re looking for a more human-level discussion of what makes us happy or unhappy worldwide, you should consider reading Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss, which covers many of these same issues.

Now go out and be nice to others!

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