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The World Map of Happiness
July 30, 2006 12:06 AM   Subscribe

Danes top world happiness ranking. "Piecing together information from more than 100 studies in the growing field of happiness research, a British psychologist has produced what he says is the first world map of happiness." The study ranks each country based on it's SWL (Satisfaction with Life, calculated from data published by the New Economics Foundation) and contrasts it with statistics such as Life Expectancy, GDP per capita and the level of Access to Education.
posted by heylight (61 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's a summary of the Top 10 Happiest Countries:

01. Denmark
02. Switzerland
03. Austria
04. Iceland
05. Bahamas
06. Finland
07. Sweden
08. Bhutan
09. Brunei Darussalam
10. Canada

Seems the whole Scandinavian area is in very good shape.
posted by heylight at 12:09 AM on July 30, 2006


People in Sierra Leone are happier than people in Russia?
posted by mullingitover at 12:14 AM on July 30, 2006


seen on some other blog discussing this article -
Q to New Yorker: "Are you happy?"
A: "Fuck you!"
posted by caddis at 12:32 AM on July 30, 2006


Thanks for listing the top ten. A pet peeve of mine is that alphabetical order is one of the least useful ways to present data.

I'm a little surprised to see Canada ranked so highly, with the long dreary winters.
posted by bobo123 at 12:38 AM on July 30, 2006


This depresses me.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:40 AM on July 30, 2006


Something is rockin' in the state of Denmark.
posted by fleacircus at 12:42 AM on July 30, 2006 [2 favorites]


I'm a little surprised to see Canada ranked so highly, with the long dreary winters.

5 of the top 10 are north of the 49th parallel. Maybe we try a little harder or ease up a bit more to compensate for the lack of daylight.
posted by Pseudonumb at 1:08 AM on July 30, 2006


bobo123, that applies to all the countries on the top 10 save the Bahamas, Bhutan and Brunei. Even Bhutan is fairly cold in the north, what with the elevation and all.

The cold countries have it, or so it would seem. Russia is probably the most notable exception.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:10 AM on July 30, 2006


Doesn't Scandiniva have unusually high suicide rates? Is it just the annoyance of the more suicidal people being surrounded by the preternaturally cheerful, rather than the long winters?

Strange.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:26 AM on July 30, 2006


I'm always happy when I eat a Danish.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:33 AM on July 30, 2006


I can explain Japan's low rating. Japanese work as many hours as their boss tells 'em to without complaint, they marry unsuitable people and suffer in silence and there is nowhere to kick back and relax in the cities.
posted by dydecker at 1:40 AM on July 30, 2006


What surprised me most about this study is that there is such a thing as a "growing field of happiness research".
posted by sour cream at 1:56 AM on July 30, 2006


Colombia is ranked rather highly as well considering the fuckeduppedness there.
posted by beerbajay at 2:24 AM on July 30, 2006


sour cream: "What surprised me most about this study is that there is such a thing as a "growing field of happiness research"."

Why? Isn't everything else we do ultimately secondary to, and paving the way for, the pursuit of happiness?
posted by Drexen at 2:24 AM on July 30, 2006


Doesn't Scandinavia have unusually high suicide rates? Is it just the annoyance of the more suicidal people being surrounded by the preternaturally cheerful, rather than the long winters?

This frequently comes up, often attached to the myth that the scandinavian countries have the highest suicide rate in the world, they are a bit higher but the difference isn't as pronounced as is often suggested:

(WHO Figures for male / female suicides per 100'000)
Finland 34.6/10.9
Denmark 20.9/8.1
Sweden 19.7/8
Norway 19.5/6.8
US 17.6/4.1

By contrast at the top end:
Lithuania 75.6/16.1
Russia 70.6/11.9
posted by Olli at 2:26 AM on July 30, 2006


.. or rather, shouldn't it be? Certainly, some people seem to see otherwise, but once our basic needs are taken care of, I think it's damn perverse to subsume the fundamental need to be happy into an ever-tightening spiral of increased productivity, ultimately to no end.
posted by Drexen at 2:28 AM on July 30, 2006


Mongolia seems pretty high, given the fact that it's... Mongolia. wtf?
posted by borkingchikapa at 2:34 AM on July 30, 2006


sour cream: not just research - it's around in the political sphere as well.
posted by athenian at 2:35 AM on July 30, 2006


In terms of happiness, this is my neighborhood:

94. Tajikistan
95. Vietnam
96. Iran
97. Comoros
98. Croatia
99. Poland
100. Cape Verdi
101. Kazakhstan
102. South Korea
103. Madagascar
104. Bangladesh
105. Congo Republic

We're almost as happy as the people in Iran! One day, I hope to be as chipper as a Tajik, as the old saying goes! Yay!
posted by pracowity at 2:50 AM on July 30, 2006 [1 favorite]


bobo123:
I have sorted the countries by ranking.
posted by beerbajay at 2:51 AM on July 30, 2006


Definitely an interesting field, that of perception of the concept of happines. I am a little skeptical about the formation of an almost universal meter and a even more skeptical of maps, but they sure look nice.
posted by elpapacito at 2:56 AM on July 30, 2006


Now also sorted by the other data.
posted by beerbajay at 3:03 AM on July 30, 2006


Bobo, you might want to include the index of economic inequality; I think the measure is the Gini co-efficient...

http://worldpolicy.org/globalrights/econrights/maps-gini.html

Apparently, the greater the gap between rich and poor, the worse the health of a society and this seems to include happiness as well.

This would probably help explain the high representation of Scandinavian countries on the happiness scale.
posted by Maias at 6:01 AM on July 30, 2006


I don't understand this - they've used data from the New Economics Foundation, who themselves recently published a list of the happiest places in world, a list that directly contradicts this one. Download the full report here.

Top 10:
1. Vanuatu
2. Colombia
3. Costa Rica
4. Dominica
5. Panama
6. Cuba
7. Honduras
8. Guatamala
9. El Salvador
10. St Vincent and the Grenadines

Denmark is 99th, just behind Congo, Egypt and Turkey. UK is 108th, Canada is 111th, the US is 150th. I don't function well on Sundays, but surely Demark can't be both the happiest place in the world and the 99th happiest place in the world.
posted by nylon at 6:19 AM on July 30, 2006


"Denmark: The Happiest Place on Earth!"®
posted by Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson at 6:29 AM on July 30, 2006


They are obviously smoking something at the NEF. People die in risky attempts to flee Cuba.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:30 AM on July 30, 2006


Interesting that oil-rich Norway is the only Nordic country missing from the top ten.
posted by three blind mice at 7:29 AM on July 30, 2006


nylon, he uses data from the NEF, but also from UNESCO, the CIA, the WHO, the Veenhoven Database, the Latinbarometer, the Afrobarometer, and the UNHDR. I'm guessing he's combining the data with a new and improved formula for extrapolating jappiness levels.

Kinda highlights how subjective the whole thing is, though.
posted by bookish at 7:31 AM on July 30, 2006 [1 favorite]


Why is Saudi Arabia so happy? I thought freedoms there were a problem.
posted by rolypolyman at 7:59 AM on July 30, 2006


One day, I hope to be as chipper as a Tajik, as the old saying goes!

One of my favorites!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:20 AM on July 30, 2006


That's it. I'm movin to Daneland.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:36 AM on July 30, 2006


I'm a little surprised to see Canada ranked so highly, with the long dreary winters.

Winter is hockey season. We're in our glory then. Turn on the TV, switch on the gas fireplace, crack open a beer, settle in for three hours of mayhem - ecstasy.

People die in risky attempts to flee Cuba.

The unhappy ones do, thus leaving the remaining populace happier.
posted by hangashore at 8:37 AM on July 30, 2006


People die in risky attempts to flee Cuba.
and
Why is Saudi Arabia so happy? I thought freedoms there were a problem.

If the happiness study is accurate, it seems to highlight the problem with make broad assumptions based primarily on unrepresentative samples.
posted by CodeBaloo at 8:38 AM on July 30, 2006


Why is Saudi Arabia so happy?

Because if you were to speak out and explain why you are so unhappy, they'd chop your head off in the village square at noon.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:08 AM on July 30, 2006


Is North korea just plain off the scale?
posted by phoffmann at 9:14 AM on July 30, 2006


Isn't the real story here about how the news media blows out of proportion simplistic studies that get people to argue but have virtually no merit in the real world? To quote from the article:

This is not the most formal of studies, White acknowledged. It is expected to be published in a University of Leicester student journal

Jesus, I would have liked my term paper, Who Says Something's Rotten in Denmark? to have made international headlines. Come to think of it, I'm glad no one elevated my smug judgments on whose happiest to the point they were claimed to be newsworthy.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:19 AM on July 30, 2006



Why is Saudi Arabia so happy? I thought freedoms there were a problem. They hate freedom.
posted by QuietDesperation at 9:44 AM on July 30, 2006


The New Economic Foundation study that nylon cited does not measure happiness per se, but the ratio of happiness to environmental impact and resource use, which is an entirely different thing. Basically, people in Cuba may not be super-happy, but in the study's phrasing, they are very "efficient [at] generating happy long lives based on the resources that they consume." Which, if you think about it, is in a lot of ways a better measure of macroeconomic performance than simple GDP. (Of course, if Castro stepped down and introduced political freedom and democracy in Cuba tomorrow, I bet people would suddenly become a lot happier, even further increasing Cuba's happiness production efficiency.)
posted by skoosh at 9:45 AM on July 30, 2006


One of the most interesting points in all of this, I think, is the case of Bhutan. Ranked #8 for its SWL, yet possessing one of the smallest GDP scores. This statistic is the result of Bhutan following an official standard of success which is not governed by GDP but by what it calls its “Gross National Happiness”. I came across this fact today in Tom Atlee’s brilliant and essential book, The Tao of Democracy. In a speech before the United Nations in September 2002, Minister of Foreign Affairs Lyonpo Jigmi Y. Thinley explained:

“My country continues to be guided by our goal of promoting "Gross National Happiness" as opposed to simply targeting the enhancement of Gross National Product as the end of development. We believe that it is the responsibility of the government to create an enabling environment within which every citizen would have a reasonable opportunity to find happiness. Toward this, all our development strategies must subscribe to strengthening of the four pillars of "Gross National Happiness", which are namely I) ensuring of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, ii) conservation of our fragile mountain ecology, iii) promotion of basic human values and culture, and iv) the strengthening of good governance”

Bhutan’s government has often declined commercial and capital prospects if said prospects interfered with the nations environment, or with other essential elements that may affect Bhutan’s GNH.
posted by heylight at 9:48 AM on July 30, 2006


skoosh writes "but the ratio of happiness to environmental impact and resource use, which is an entirely different thing"

So basically it is happyness-coefficient / resource-consumption ..it's like 3 laughter per dollah or a laughter costs (1/3)$ to produce ? That still makes as much sense as fantasy football to me.
posted by elpapacito at 10:06 AM on July 30, 2006


What surprised me most about this study is that there is such a thing as a "growing field of happiness research".

Very interesting article over at New York Magazine about that growing field. Among other surprising bits is the theory that the myth of New York as the greatest place on earth persists, despite abundant evidence many New Yorkers are miserable, in order to stoke the engine of the culture.

As for Canada's high ranking, I wonder (as a slightly boastful Canuck) if it has something to do with a sort of contentment (as opposed to exuberant joy) that comes from an officially enshrined culture of tolerance, no fears that a medical condition will bankrupt you and your family, access to high quality education, etc. Having spent quite a bit of time in the tropics - Florida and India, in particular - I've seen tons of evidence that a warm climate is not a significant indicator of cultural contentment (which might be a better way to describe what's being measured than happiness is).
posted by gompa at 10:11 AM on July 30, 2006


isn't it kind of silly to try to quantify happiness? to give the old new yorker example, aren't some people perfectly content, even enthusiastic, about holding the rest of the world in some contempt?

just saying....
posted by es_de_bah at 10:12 AM on July 30, 2006


Might be worth adding that the poorest of the poor, the lepers and skinny children begging in the streets of India's cities, generally seemed less desperately unhappy than homeless people in North American cities do. My armchair sociologist's theory is that very few Indians, no matter how poor, are as totally isolated and alone as North America's homeless. After a year in India, I was convinced I'd take abject poverty over abject loneliness any day.
posted by gompa at 10:16 AM on July 30, 2006


Doesn't Scandiniva have unusually high suicide rates?

That would skewer the results, because they're not going to be surveying the dead Scandanavians;-)
posted by orange swan at 10:18 AM on July 30, 2006


Might be worth adding that the poorest of the poor, the lepers and skinny children begging in the streets of India's cities, generally seemed less desperately unhappy than homeless people in North American cities do.

I suspect there's a lot more shame involved in being poor in North America than in India.
posted by jason's_planet at 10:32 AM on July 30, 2006


gompa, Well said. In my personal experience I found the Swiss to be the least happy people I've come across, in spite of their physical well being and the Indians more happy than most. Italians, in my experience, seem to have the most capacity for pleasure, joy and playful laughter, whatever their financial situation.
posted by nickyskye at 10:36 AM on July 30, 2006


Derail for derail shake, alive Scandinavian chicks can increase my happyness coefficient any time !

gompa writes "After a year in India, I was convinced I'd take abject poverty over abject loneliness any day."

It seems to me you are describing some sort of graciousness and happyness in their lifestyle ; I may be wrong , but I remember Pasolini (a rather famous italian writer, poet and irector) describing some kind of amenable humanity, genuine enjoyable simplicity in the people living in Rome suburbs, generally living a condition of poverty and brutal ignorance, yet somehow stilll gracious and definitely happyer then some rich, spoiled and decadent people.

It is a sensation I sometime felt when spending some time with people that (probably) because of poor education and lack of resources seems to be somehow more childish, both expressing the innocence and the violence of immaturity.
posted by elpapacito at 10:44 AM on July 30, 2006


Doesn't Scandiniva have unusually high suicide rates?

Leaving behind only the happy ones.
posted by dontoine at 10:48 AM on July 30, 2006



So basically it is happyness-coefficient / resource-consumption ..it's like 3 laughter per dollah or a laughter costs (1/3)$ to produce ? That still makes as much sense as fantasy football to me.


The way I read it is: an economy's purpose is to meet the needs of a population (i.e. maximize utility) in the most efficient way possible. It does this by consuming resources to produce and distribute goods and services to the members of said population. We'll take it as a given that those resources are limited. Happiness is basically utility, so the happier a socioeconomic system can make its constituent population on a given quantity of resources, the better it is at doing its job.

To put it another way, if playing hopscotch (cost: temporary use of 2 square meters of pavement, 1 piece of chalk) gives you as much pleasure as crashing a Hummer into a telephone pole (cost: 1 tree, 1 gallon of gasoline, several tons of steel and glass), then the hopscotch is a more economically efficient way to have fun. Food, clothing, shelter, and laughter all cost something in terms of resources; the question is, how much do we really have to spend to enjoy our lives?
posted by skoosh at 10:56 AM on July 30, 2006


Another reason to hate the Danes!

(I used to work for a Danish boss who was utterly unreasonable and a pain in the ass, and I'm still not over it. I did find some comfort in Jasper Fforde's book, Something Rotten, in which England is at war with Denmark and each chapter starts with a nasty quote about the Danish.)
posted by tabbycat at 11:18 AM on July 30, 2006


skoosh writes "the question is, how much do we really have to spend to enjoy our lives?"

You already answered your question, when you noticed the same amount of fun (assuming it can be measured) CAN be produced by either crashing a car or playing football ; it is a matter of _perception_ because your fun is not my fun, except that we both call it fun. If my memory doesn't fail I studied a simplification of edgeworth (?) model of curves of satisfaction ; ideally you should find that point of intersection of the curves that is the closest possible approximation to maximized utility/fun for every participant in the allocation of resources.

Now you may observe that playing ball requires 1) different 2) less resources then crashing SUVs , so we could observe that playing ball is a lot more efficient then crashings suvs, if they both produce the same quality and quantity of fun. Therfore if efficiency is consider as a priority over fun, we should NOT use suvs to have fun but rather play ball.

Yet

1. not everybody considers their fun as valuable as other people fun
2. not everybody have fun the same way
3. tomorrow your top priority may as well be that of having fun and screw efficiency

Sorry I must run right now :) the point is that your question can fall under

1. moral rational imperative : it is not OK to spend that an absolute high value if we can have the same for less
2. problem of optimization of resource allocation : that could leave everbody unsatisfied it the resources don't produce exactly as much is needed to have ALL the person "feel fun"
3. perception of fun and its implication in economy

it's a wide field and I don't really know how to answer your question in a snap. My skepticism isn't a destructive one (can't do) but rather an expression of my experience in which many people use numbers , divide melons by apples and so on..in a total optimistic mess :D
posted by elpapacito at 11:32 AM on July 30, 2006


The whole thing seems more than a bit dodgy, given that it's based on survey responses.

I have to think that it's really measuring something like the social pressures against admitting unhappiness, or towards saying that you're content, and so on.

Call me back when they have neurological evidence that the people who say they're happier, actually are happier.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:21 PM on July 30, 2006


I know in the field of psychology, studying happiness is a new thing. Instead of focusing on the bad - the effects of depression, anger - Positive Psychology studies the effects of happiness, such as longer life, less risk of disease, etc. It seems a little hoaky, but some of the findings are pretty cool.
posted by hopeless romantique at 12:34 PM on July 30, 2006




A truly beautiful movie, directed by a Dane and based on Danish Karen Blixen's (Isak Dinesen's) novel, Babette's Feast, is in part about finding happiness unexpectedly.
posted by nickyskye at 1:11 PM on July 30, 2006


Previously on AskMetaFilter.

Previously on MetaFilter, excellent threads and FPPs about happiness: Money Can't Buy Me Love, Some Dark Thoughts about Happiness, and A reference point; a relative state of mind to which we compare other emotions. Being happy is one of our ultimate goals.
posted by nickyskye at 1:35 PM on July 30, 2006


What a shock, the Saudis are happy...

They have alot to be happy about.

The constant flow of $US into their economy, they control one of the world's largest oil reserves, not having to fight their own wars, having the US invade Iraq for them, the US moving our military bases off their land and onto Iraq, The bush family treating the Saudi royals and Bin Ladin family oh so well, Wealthy princes building gaudy skyscrapers... oh and lets not forget how happy they must be that their funded attacks on the US and the Brits went so smoothly.

It's good to be King, right?
posted by LoopSouth at 1:56 PM on July 30, 2006


I'm a little surprised to see Canada ranked so highly, with the long dreary winters.

I love winter. I would love winter to spontaneously appear some time around Tuesday, when it's supposed to hit 36 degrees in Toronto. (Translation: 97 degrees, and humid.)

While the days are certainly shorter in the winter, most of them are bright and sunny. It's not so bad. I rather like it, curled up on the couch with a bowl of soup, reading a good book. And snow is pretty when it's falling.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:36 PM on July 30, 2006


The Danes are so happy because they have a half Australian prince in line for the throne.
posted by cholly at 6:34 PM on July 30, 2006


Nonsense, everyone knows it's that little Island down in the So. Pacific that starts with "V".

The other scientific study said so.

Hey, ask yourself: How long did Keillor actually *stay* in Denmark? I can only *wish* it was happy there.
posted by Twang at 6:41 PM on July 30, 2006


Well I'm quite happy with 11th place!
posted by TwoWordReview at 1:49 AM on July 31, 2006


I think actual happiness has more to do with individuals - apparently psychology research shows people with amazing lives no more likely to be happy than those with terrible lives (measured in "objective" terms).

But this seemed to as about "satisfaction with life", which is different from being happy. Inequality has a huge impact on satisfaction with life. People are far less satisfied being poor in a rich country than being in a poor country where everyone has what they do. And one way to increase satisfaction in the first world is to engage in policies that decrease inequality.
posted by jb at 4:12 AM on July 31, 2006


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