(*Some geographical restrictions may apply)
Some time ago, the University of Leicester released what was dubbed the ‘world’s first happiness map.’ Several variations have since been produced by other organizations.
The original, produced by Adrian White, an analytic social psychologist, was the result of reviewing data published by several organizations like UNESCO and the WHO (the organization, not Pete Townsend’s band). Participants in the various studies had been asked questions related to happiness and their overall satisfaction with life.
The map is surprising for many reasons. The first is that the study author resisted using stacked happy face icons to illustrate levels of happiness on the map. The second is that there is no longer something rotten in the state of Denmark (sorry, Shakespeare), as it was the happiest place on Earth. Switzerland, Austria, Iceland, The Bahamas, Finland, Sweden, Bhutan, Brunei and Canada rounded out the top ten.
The unhappiest places on Earth were the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe and Burundi. I suspect there are a few other places on Earth that might rank as even unhappier, but potential respondents are too busy avoiding bombs to answer surveys.
So what makes a country’s citizens happy? It’s an important question, as governments have started looking at happiness as a potential measure of a country’s well-being as well as GDP. (GDP stands for Gross Domestic Product, which is private consumption + government + investment + net exports. It is not, as any new mother might surmise, something your baby produces). Adrian White suggested that happiness is associated with health, followed by wealth and then education. Of course, I think there are several other reasons to explain why some countries are happier than others.
Switzerland obviously ranks well because of one thing: Swiss chocolate.
As for the other countries in the top ten, you will note they are primarily northern countries with cold climates. Colder climates make for happier people because:
1. Good weather is so rare that when it does happen, we really, really appreciate it.
2. Cold weather makes for better hockey. And there’s nothing like watching 10 men or women with blades on their feet and big sticks fighting over a puck to get your aggressions out.
3. Cold weather also reduces the number of nasty, poisonous things wandering about the countryside. I’m quite happy that the local swimming pool doesn’t have to be checked for water snakes, and that I don’t have to arm wrestle the spiders that sometimes invade my house.
The US, in spite of famous documents talking about the right to pursue happiness, isn’t quite as chipper as you might expect, coming in as it did at 23. Apart from war woes, one suspects US happiness levels drop every time former President Bush speaks goes abroad. This is because Americans fear that if he gave Russian President Vladimir Putin the same impromptu shoulder massage he gave Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin would judo fling him across the room and geopolitics as we know it would go all to hell.
Australia, coming in at 26, was obviously somewhat miffed that I made fun of their winter sports aspirations a few weeks ago. France, meanwhile, came in at 62nd in world happiness, which just goes to show that while French women may not get fat, they’re not exactly thrilled about being thin either.
Japan was astonishingly low in the rankings as well, coming in at 90. According to Naomi Moriyama, Japanese women don’t get old *or* fat, so I’m not sure why the Japanese aren’t happier. On the other hand, anyone who has seen an episode of The Iron Chef will know that the Japanese have an entirely different perspective on what’s funny and entertaining than we do here in the west.
China, India and Russia all scored near the bottom of the list too, which is odd, considering that these countries are on their way up the world economic and status scales. White suggests that big countries and/or big populations reduce happiness, but personally, I think there can only be one explanation: my work hasn’t yet been translated into Chinese, Indian and Russian languages yet. I must see someone about this.