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08 July, 2009

Happiness... all depends where you live?

In my previous post, I was discussing the pros and cons of socialized medicine or, for that matter, socialized democracy in general. I have a somewhat idealistic view that things are better in other places, particularly Europe, than they they are here. I realize that I could be mistaken. The times that I have visited Europe, I have indeed felt that things made more sense there in a lot of ways, but I recognize that's a limited experience of "vacation" which is not the same as living there. Nonetheless, I did wonder, "Are people happier in Europe? Or are people happier elsewhere?"

I decided to do a little online research into happiness. Specifically, how does the happiness of people vary from nation to nation. Of course, it all depends how you define happiness, too.

I found a couple of good research projects that take different looks at the question.
  1. Subjective Well-Being Index
  2. Happy Planet Index
The SWB appears to be just that. A questionnaire that measured self-report of happiness throughout the world. The results were not particularly earth-shattering. You should take a look at the link above for details and references, but I'll paste the rankings list (SWLS = Satisfaction With Life Scale):

Nation SWLS


DENMARK 273
SWITZERLAND 273
AUSTRIA 260
ICELAND 260
BAHAMAS 257
FINLAND 257
SWEDEN 257
BHUTAN 253
BRUNEI DARUSSALAM 253
CANADA 253
IRELAND 253
LUXEMBOURG 253
COSTA RICA 250
MALTA 250
NETHERLANDS 250
ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA 247
MALAYSIA 247
NEW ZEALAND 247
NORWAY 247
SEYCHELLES 247
ST KITTS AND NEVIS 247
UAE 247
USA 247
VANUATU 247
VENEZUELA 247
AUSTRALIA 243
BARBADOS 243
BELGIUM 243
DOMINICA 243
OMAN 243
SAUDI ARABIA 243
SURINAME 243
BAHRAIN 240
COLUMBIA 240
GERMANY 240
GUYANA 240
HONDURAS 240
KUWAIT 240
PANAMA 240
ST VINCENT AND THE 240
UNITED KINGDOM 237
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC 233
GUATEMALA 233
JAMAICA 233
QATAR 233
SPAIN 233
ST LUCIA 233
BELIZE 230
CYPRUS 230
ITALY 230
MEXICO 230
SAMOA WESTERN 230
SINGAPORE 230
SOLOMON ISLANDS 230
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO 230
ARGENTINA 227
FIJI 223
ISRAEL 223
MONGOLIA 223
SAO TOME AND PERINI 223
EL SALVADOR 220
FRANCE 220
HONG KONG 220
INDONESIA 220
KYRGYZSTAN 220
MALDIVES 220
SLOVENIA 220
TAIWAN 220
TIMOR-LESTE 220
TONGA 220
CHILE 217
GRENADA 217
MAURITIUS 217
NAMIBIA 217
PARAGUAY 217
THAILAND 217
CZECH REPUBLIC 213
PHILIPPINES 213
TUNISIA 213
UZBEKISTAN 213
BRAZIL 210
CHINA 210
CUBA 210
GREECE 210
NICARAGUA 210
PAPUA NEW GUINEA 210
URUGUAY 210
GABON 207
GHANA 207
JAPAN 207
YEMEN 207
PORTUGAL 203
SRI LANKA 203
TAJIKISTAN 203
VIETNAM 203
IRAN 200
COMOROS 197
CROATIA 197
POLAND 197
CAPE VERDI 193
KAZAKHSTAN 193
MADAGASCAR 193
SOUTH KOREA 193
BANGLADESH 190
CONGO REPUBLIC 190
GAMBIA 190
HUNGARY 190
LIBYA 190
SOUTH AFRICA 190
CAMBODIA 187
ECUADOR 187
KENYA 187
LEBANON 187
MOROCCO 187
PERU 187
SENEGAL 187
BOLIVIA 183
HAITI 183
NEPAL 183
NIGERIA 183
TANZANIA 183
BENIN 180
BOTSWANA 180
GUINEA-BISSAU 180
INDIA 180
LAOS 180
MOZAMBIQUE 180
PALESTINE 180
SLOVAKIA 180
BURMA 177
MALI 177
MAURITANIA 177
TURKEY 177
ALGERIA 173
EQUATORIAL GUINEA 173
ROMANIA 173
BOSNIA & HERZE 170
CAMEROON 170
ESTONIA 170
GUINEA 170
JORDAN 170
SYRIA 170
SIERRA LEONE 167
AZERBAIJAN 163
CENTRAL AFRICAN RE 163
MACEDONIA 163
TOGO 163
ZAMBIA 163
ANGOLA 160
DJIBOUTI 160
EGYPT 160
BURKINA FASO 157
ETHIOPIA 157
LATVIA 157
LITHUANIA 157
UGANDA 157
ALBANIA 153
MALAWI 153
CHAD 150
IVORY COAST 150
NIGER 150
ERITREA 147
RWANDA 147
BULGARIA 143
LESOTHO 143
PAKISTAN 143
RUSSIA 143
SWAZILAND 140
GEORGIA 137
BELARUS 133
TURKMENISTAN 133
ARMENIA 123
SUDAN 120
UKRAINE 120
MOLDOVA 117
CONGO DEMOCRATIC 110
ZIMBABWE 110
BURUNDI 100

I highlighted some ones that I thought were of interest in red. Mostly because of their absence of high placement on the list. Although the US is not that close to the top of the list, the difference between the US and the top is small enough, that they could generally be considered to be high on the list.

One has to wonder how reliable self-report of life satisfaction is. There are most definitely cultural biases that must play into one's tendency to report happiness or unhappiness. This scale was reported as being valid and reliable. But being valid and reliable does not necessarily mean that it is "true and accurate". Validity implies that it correlated well with some other accepted scale of similar measure. And reliable implies that the results are repeatable. Or something like that. I should be more rigorous if I am going to start defining things for you. But the bottom line is that we can't know that the people in the United Arab Emirates are exactly as satisfied with their lives as the people in the USA, just because their scores were similar. It does seem reasonable that countries with extreme strife, famine, war, and unrest would be appearing near the bottom of the list. And it makes sense that countries with much of the necessities provided by government, little strife or poverty and, not surprisingly, little diversity, are happier. Diversity creates much opportunity for conflict and for dissatisfaction. I make no value judgment on this, but it is worth noting that many of the nations near the very top are fairly homogeneous populations. I must confess, I know nothing about the population of Bhutan.

The second study, the Happy Planet Index, takes into account a series of factors in rating each nation. These include Life Expectancy, Life Satisfaction (which probably maps most closely to the SWLS above), and the big bonus item is the Ecological Footprint, which measures the consumption in the country, and thus, the impact on the planet. This is an added indication of sustainability of a particular lifestyle.

Their results, which were heavily colored by that ecological measure, were quite different from those seen in the first study listed. EF = ecological footprint, and HPI = the happy planet index. I have highlighted some countries in red. You'll notice the US is very far down the list, because of our insanely high ecological footprint.

Countries Life Sat Life Exp EF
HPI






Costa Rica 8.5 78.5 2.3
76.1
Dominican Republic 7.6 71.5 1.5
71.8
Jamaica 6.7 72.2 1.1
70.1
Guatemala 7.4 69.7 1.5
68.4
Vietnam 6.5 73.7 1.3
66.5
Colombia 7.3 72.3 1.8
66.1
Cuba 6.7 77.7 1.8
65.7
El Salvador 6.7 71.3 1.6
61.5
Brazil 7.6 71.7 2.4
61.0
Honduras 7.0 69.4 1.8
61.0
Nicaragua 7.1 71.9 2.0
60.5
Egypt 6.7 70.7 1.7
60.3
Saudi Arabia 7.7 72.2 2.6
59.7
Philippines 5.5 71.0 0.9
59.0
Argentina 7.1 74.8 2.5
59.0
Indonesia 5.7 69.7 0.9
58.9
Bhutan 6.1 64.7 1.0
58.5
Panama 7.8 75.1 3.2
57.4
Laos 6.2 63.2 1.1
57.3
China 6.7 72.5 2.1
57.1
Morocco 5.6 70.4 1.1
56.8
Sri Lanka 5.4 71.6 1.0
56.5
Mexico 7.7 75.6 3.4
55.6
Pakistan 5.6 64.6 0.8
55.6
Ecuador 6.4 74.7 2.2
55.5
Jordan 6.0 71.9 1.7
54.6
Belize 6.6 75.9 2.6
54.5
Peru 5.9 70.7 1.6
54.4
Tunisia 5.9 73.5 1.8
54.3
Trinidad and Tobago 6.7 69.2 2.1
54.2
Bangladesh 5.3 63.1 0.6
54.1
Moldova 5.7 68.4 1.2
54.1
Malaysia 6.6 73.7 2.4
54.0
Tajikistan 5.1 66.3 0.7
53.5
India 5.5 63.7 0.9
53.0
Venezuela 6.9 73.2 2.8
52.5
Nepal 5.3 62.6 0.8
51.9
Syria 5.9 73.6 2.1
51.3
Burma 5.9 60.8 1.1
51.2
Algeria 5.6 71.7 1.7
51.2
Thailand 6.3 69.6 2.1
50.9
Haiti 5.2 59.5 0.5
50.8
Netherlands 7.7 79.2 4.4
50.6
Malta 7.1 79.1 3.8
50.4
Uzbekistan 6.0 66.8 1.8
50.1
Chile 6.3 78.3 3.0
49.7
Bolivia 6.5 64.7 2.1
49.3
Armenia 5.0 71.7 1.4
48.3
Singapore 7.1 79.4 4.2
48.2
Yemen 5.2 61.5 0.9
48.1
Germany 7.2 79.1 4.2
48.1
Switzerland 7.7 81.3 5.0
48.1
Sweden 7.9 80.5 5.1
48.0
Albania 5.5 76.2 2.2
47.9
Paraguay 6.9 71.3 3.2
47.8
Palestine 5.0 72.9 1.5
47.7
Austria 7.8 79.4 5.0
47.7
Serbia 6.0 73.6 2.6
47.6
Finland 8.0 78.9 5.2
47.2
Croatia 6.4 75.3 3.2
47.2
Kyrgyzstan 5.0 65.6 1.1
47.1
Cyprus 7.2 79.0 4.5
46.2
Guyana 6.5 65.2 2.6
45.6
Belgium 7.6 78.8 5.1
45.4
Bosnia and Herzegovina 5.9 74.5 2.9
45.0
Slovenia 7.0 77.4 4.5
44.5
Israel 7.1 80.3 4.8
44.5
Korea 6.3 77.9 3.7
44.4
Italy 6.9 80.3 4.8
44.0
Romania 5.9 71.9 2.9
43.9
France 7.1 80.2 4.9
43.9
Georgia 4.3 70.7 1.1
43.6
Slovakia 6.1 74.2 3.3
43.5
United Kingdom 7.4 79.0 5.3
43.3
Japan 6.8 82.3 4.9
43.3
Spain 7.6 80.5 5.7
43.2
Poland 6.5 75.2 4.0
42.8
Ireland 8.1 78.4 6.3
42.6
Iraq 5.4 57.7 1.3
42.6
Cambodia 4.9 58.0 0.9
42.3
Iran 5.6 70.2 2.7
42.1
Bulgaria 5.5 72.7 2.7
42.0
Turkey 5.5 71.4 2.7
41.7
Hong Kong 7.2 81.9 5.7
41.6
Azerbaijan 5.3 67.1 2.2
41.2
Lithuania 5.8 72.5 3.2
40.9
Djibouti 5.7 53.9 1.5
40.4
Norway 8.1 79.8 6.9
40.4
Canada 8.0 80.3 7.1
39.4
Hungary 5.7 72.9 3.5
38.9
Kazakhstan 6.1 65.9 3.4
38.5
Czech Republic 6.9 75.9 5.4
38.3
Mauritania 5.0 63.2 1.9
38.2
Iceland 7.8 81.5 7.4
38.1
Ukraine 5.3 67.7 2.7
38.1
Senegal 4.5 62.3 1.4
38.0
Greece 6.8 78.9 5.9
37.6
Portugal 5.9 77.7 4.4
37.5
Uruguay 6.8 75.9 5.5
37.2
Ghana 4.7 59.1 1.5
37.1
Latvia 5.4 72.0 3.5
36.7
Australia 7.9 80.9 7.8
36.6
New Zealand 7.8 79.8 7.7
36.2
Belarus 5.8 68.7 3.9
35.7
Denmark 8.1 77.9 8.0
35.5
Mongolia 5.7 65.9 3.5
35.0
Malawi 4.4 46.3 0.5
34.5
Russia 5.9 65.0 3.7
34.5
Chad 5.4 50.4 1.7
34.3
Lebanon 4.7 71.5 3.1
33.6
Macedonia 5.5 73.8 4.6
32.7
Congo 3.6 54.0 0.5
32.4
Madagascar 3.7 58.4 1.1
31.5
United States of America 7.9 77.9 9.4
30.7
Nigeria 4.8 46.5 1.3
30.3
Guinea 4.0 54.8 1.3
30.3
Uganda 4.5 49.7 1.4
30.2
South Africa 5.0 50.8 2.1
29.7
Rwanda 4.2 45.2 0.8
29.6
Congo, Dem. Rep. of the 3.9 45.8 0.6
29.0
Sudan 4.5 57.4 2.4
28.5
Luxembourg 7.7 78.4 10.2
28.5
United Arab Emirates 7.2 78.3 9.5
28.2
Ethiopia 4.0 51.8 1.4
28.1
Kenya 3.7 52.1 1.1
27.8
Cameroon 3.9 49.8 1.3
27.2
Zambia 4.3 40.5 0.8
27.2
Kuwait 6.7 77.3 8.9
27.0
Niger 3.8 55.8 1.6
26.9
Angola 4.3 41.7 0.9
26.8
Estonia 5.6 71.2 6.4
26.4
Mali 3.8 53.1 1.6
25.8
Mozambique 3.8 42.8 0.9
24.6
Benin 3.0 55.4 1.0
24.6
Togo 2.6 57.8 0.8
23.3
Sierra Leone 3.6 41.8 0.8
23.1
Central African Republic 4.0 43.7 1.6
22.9
Burkina Faso 3.6 51.4 2.0
22.4
Burundi 2.9 48.5 0.8
21.8
Namibia 4.5 51.6 3.7
21.1
Botswana 4.7 48.1 3.6
20.9
Tanzania 2.4 51.0 1.1
17.8
Zimbabwe 2.8 40.9 1.1
16.6

I am not sure how fair it is to look at this scale as a reflection of happiness, because individual happiness at a given point in time does not depend on sustainability of that happiness. According to this scale, people in countries like Luxembourg and the USA are "not as happy as they think they are" because their lifestyle depends on behaviors that are simply not sustainable. So it's got something to do with the reality of future unhappiness. Of course, that is on the assumption that countries do not radically change their behavior long before the unhappy time comes.

I was interested to see if there is a correlation between the HPI's Life Satisfaction sub-measure and the SWLS from the first scale, because I think that would provide some form of validation. Looking across the 140 countries for which both measures collected data, the correlation was 76% between the two measures. Not too shabby. I wanted to look at the outliers from this data; i.e. the countries where one index had a very different result than the other. To do this, I normalized both indices to their respective mean values, and then took the ratio of the two indices, Life Sat from HPI divided by the Self-Report SWLS measure. The chart below shows only the outliers. Out of the 140 countries, 109 of them had a ratio of the two measures that fell in a plus or minus 20% from unity. The chart below has 31 countries on it. The ones in red were ones where the HPI was more than 20% higher than the SWLS (16/31), and the ones in green were ones where SWLS was more than 20% higher than HPI (15/31).


I wonder what can be said about these differences? For the most part, it appears that it is African countries that were disproportionately higher on the SWLS measure. And it appears to be largely former Soviet or Eastern European and Middle East countries that were disproportionately higher on the HPI Life Sat measure.

It would be fun to dig into these differences, in terms of the questions or metrics used, to see if there's a good explanation.

2 comments:

  1. I want to live in Burundi.

    ReplyDelete
  2. How about here: http://tiny.cc/2kuka

    ReplyDelete