National Happiness – 2013 Rankings
By Shlomo Maital
Three eminent economists – Richard Layard, John Helliwell and Jeffrey Sachs – combine to prepare an annual World Happiness Report. Their measure is based on self-assessed happiness, interpreted as “satisfaction with life” together with the perceived emotion of wellbeing. In their latest report, for the years 2010-12, (see above), Scandinavian and Northern European countries rank highest, along with Canada, Austria, and surprisingly, my country Israel (11th), despite the Mideast conflict, and Costa Rica, a relatively poor but serene and beautiful country. Note that Mexico, at 16th, ranks above the United States, despite the latter’s $50,000 GDP per capita.
Why? The answer is simple. Happiness, note the authors, is driven in part by the standard of living (per capita GDP), but also by life expectancy, social support, freedom to make life choices, and generosity. This is why Qatar, the wealthiest country in the world by far, with per capita GDP of nearly $100,000, ranks only 27th, because it is a rigid autocracy.
I am amazed at how poorly individuals and whole nations practice the simple art of best-practice benchmarking. If you are a political leader, and if your avowed goal is to improve the wellbeing of your citizens, the ones who elected you, would you not explore the world and visit the places in which people are the happiest, and try to find out why? And would you not try to bring home some of the “recipes” they use – income equality, social support, generosity, social cohesion?
I get this response very often when I make this argument: Israel is not Denmark. Followed by all the excuses. And my response is: Well – why isn’t it? Can we make it so?
There is a lesson for individuals in this Report, not just for countries. True, you do need a basic level of income to be happy. But you also need the love and support of family, the generosity of others, and good health (supplied, as a public good “health care”, by good governments, or at least they should). Even if you have high income, if you lack the other ingredients, the income may not help much. Keep this in mind.