Happiness and wellbeing

it's measurable

The most important building blocks for a happy society are democracy, equality, good education and high quality child care, as well as taking care of each other…
- Finnish Ambassador Päivi Luostarinen

And the winner is Finland… but Australia is in the top 10 of the World Happiness Report. Based on global happiness levels across 156 countries in 2018, the report is produced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The data was collected from the Gallup World Poll to try to reveal which nations of people were happy and why. Those involved were economists from Columbia University, the University of British Columbia and London School of Economics Centre for Economic Performance.

The top 10 happiest countries:

New Zealand

Reports have been produced annually for six years now, but the main focus of the latest, in addition to its usual ranking of the levels and changes in happiness around the world, was issues related to migration within and between countries.

The top countries generally have high values for all six of the key variables that have been found to support wellbeing. These are income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. Among the top countries, differences are small enough that year to year changes in the rankings can be expected and achieved.

In gaining top place, Finland rated very well across all indicators.

“The most important building blocks for a happy society are democracy, equality, good education and high quality child care, as well as taking care of each other,” Finnish Ambassador Päivi Luostarinen told the HuffPost after the launch of the report.

“These values are very important for Finns. I also think our relationship with nature, and national character, play parts in our happiness.”

As in previous reports, the top 10 group was dominated by the nordic countries of Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland.

“This strong showing demonstrates ‘nordic happiness’,” Michael Birkjær, an analyst at the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, said. This, he said, comes from “healthy amounts of personal freedom, trust (both in other people and in the system) and social security, which outweighs residents having to pay some of the highest taxes in the world.”

The report shows how the six main factors affect wellbeing, and interestingly, only one of those is strictly economic (GDP per capita). The other five are life expectancy, social support, freedom to make choices, the generosity of people around you, and perceived corruption levels.

John Helliwell, a University of British Columbia economist who co-edited the report said: “the most surprising finding researchers came across was the extent to which happiness of immigrants matches the locally born population. The happiest countries in the world also have the happiest immigrants in the world.”

When asked about what the report suggests for those who are currently unsatisfied with where they live, Helliwell says: “The right answer is not to move to the happier communities but instead to learn and apply the lessons and inspirations that underlie their happiness. Happiness is not something inherently in short supply, like gold, inciting rushes to find and much conflict over ownership. But happiness, unlike gold, can be created for all, and can be shared without being scarce for those who give. It even grows as it is shared.”

For the country that prides itself on pursuing happiness, even written into its Declaration of Independence, America isn’t particularly happy in international terms. European nations regularly top the US in surveys of happiness, proving wellbeing isn’t necessarily linked with economic growth.

According to the report, obesity, the opioid crisis, and depression are global problems; however the prevalence of all three problems has been growing faster and further [in the US] than in most other countries.

In the report findings it concludes: “The main issue for the US is not the lack of means to address the crises of public health and declining wellbeing, rather, perhaps the major practical barrier is corporate lobbying that keeps dangerous corporate practices in place and imposes untold burdens on the poor and vulnerable parts of the US population, coupled with the failure of the American political system to address and understand America’s growing social crisis. The challenge of wellbeing is a matter both of high politics and economics and the sum of individual and community-based efforts.”

Each year the report is launched celebrating the International Day of Happiness at the United Nations.

For the World Happiness Report 2018 go to http://worldhappiness.report/ed/2018/

Bronwyn Ridgway