Cover Story: Happiness

World Map of Happiness

In addition to gross national product, progressive politicians advocate also measuring the gross national happiness of their countries. A number of happiness researchers are working on just that. One result is the “World Map of Happiness” drawn up by researchers at the University of Leicester, UK, in 2006, for which psychologist Adrian White and his team evaluated data from more than 100 surveys by institutions such as the World Health Organisation WHO and UNESCO.

World map of happiness
Photo: Copyright 2006 SASI Group
(University of Sheffield) und
Mark Newman (University of Michigan).

As these surveys “only” measure the subjective sense of happiness reported by the approximately 80,000 respondents, their scientific value is limited. They do, however, provide interesting insights into different definitions of happiness in different cultures, and into universal happiness factors. In addition, they are largely confirmed by the results of a more recent, similar evaluation by Dutch happiness researcher Ruut Veenhoven of the Erasmus University Rotterdam.

So where are people happiest? In terms of the average feeling of happiness, the Danes lead White’s survey followed by Switzerland and Austria. Germany comes 35th out of 178 states; at the very bottom of the list is Burundi.

Most satisfied with their personal circumstances are people who live in countries with good healthcare, high growth rates and good access to education. European countries are included amongst the Top Ten – in addition to Denmark, Switzerland and Austria, these are Iceland, Finland and Sweden: they are all prosperous, have functioning healthcare and education systems, relatively low levels of unemployment and little social inequality. Despite their increasing prosperity, Asian countries such as China (82nd), Japan (90th) and India (125th) achieve relatively low ratings. The great sense of community and the strong collective identity characteristic of the people of these countries do not seem to promote happiness. According to the happiness researchers, freedom, democracy and the possibility of determining one’s own life and, for example, having an interesting, responsible job are far more conducive to increasing people’s happiness quotient.

published in Humboldt Kosmos 97/2011