HAPPINESS

Who’s happy, who’s not? Norway tops list, US declines and China stays the same despite economic success of past 25 years

The rankings are based on gross domestic product per person, healthy life expectancy with four factors from global surveys

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 4:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 10:53pm

If you want to go to your happy place, you need more than cash. A winter coat helps – and a sense of community.

A new report shows Norway is the happiest country on Earth, Americans are getting sadder, and it takes more than just money to be happy.

Norway vaulted to the top slot in the World Happiness Report despite the plummeting price of oil, a key part of its economy. Income in the US has gone up over the past decade, but happiness is declining.

If the welfare of the ‘common man’ is taken as a criterion of success, the picture is much less favourable [for China]
World Happiness Report

The United States was 14th in the latest ranking, down from No.13 last year, and over the years Americans steadily have been rating themselves less happy.

“It’s the human things that matter. If the riches make it harder to have frequent and trustworthy relationship between people, is it worth it?” asked John Helliwell, the lead author of the report and an economist at the University of British Columbia in Canada (ranked No.7). “The material can stand in the way of the human.”

The report also finds people in China are no happier than 25 years ago. It contrasts the sharply growing per capita income in China over the past 25 years with life evaluations that fell steadily from 1990 till about 2005, recovering since then to about the 1990 levels.

“China’s soaring GDP growth over the past quarter century is viewed by many analysts as the hallmark of a successful transition from socialism to capitalism,” the report said. “But if the welfare of the ‘common man’ is taken as a criterion of success, the picture is much less favourable and more like that of European transition countries.

“From 1990 to 2000-2005, life satisfaction in China, on average, declined. Since then it has turned upward, but at present it is probably less than a quarter century ago.”

‘Happiest man in the world’ has a tip for Hongkongers on how to be less stressed out

Studying happiness may seem frivolous, but serious academics have long been calling for more testing about people’s emotional well-being, especially in the US. In 2013, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report recommending that federal statistics and surveys, which normally deal with income, spending, health and housing, include a few extra questions on happiness because it would lead to better policy that affects people’s lives.

Norway moved from No.4 to the top spot in the report’s rankings, which combine economic, health and polling data compiled by economists that are averaged over three years from 2014 to 2016. Norway edged past previous champ Denmark, which fell to second. Iceland, Switzerland and Finland round out the top 5.

What works in the Nordic countries is a sense of community and understanding in the common good
Meik Wiking, Happiness Research Institute

“Good for them. I don’t think Denmark has a monopoly on happiness,” said Meik Wiking, chief executive officer of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, who wasn’t part of the study that came out with the rankings.

“What works in the Nordic countries is a sense of community and understanding in the common good,” Wiking said.

Overall, Hong Kong ranked 71st in the world and China ranked 79th in the world. Australia and NZ are Asia’s happiest countries, coming in at No.8 and No.9 respectively. Singapore was at No.26, Thailand at No.32, Taiwan at No.33, Malaysia at No.42, Japan at No.51, South Korea at No.56 and Philippines at No.72. Cambodia is Asia’s unhappiest country, ranked at No.129.

Central African Republic fell to last on the happiness list, and is joined at the bottom by Burundi, Tanzania, Syria and Rwanda.

The rankings are based on gross domestic product per person, healthy life expectancy with four factors from global surveys. In those surveys, people give scores from 1 to 10 on how much social support they feel they have if something goes wrong, their freedom to make their own life choices, their sense of how corrupt their society is and how generous they are.

While most countries were either getting happier or at least treading water, America’s happiness score dropped 5 per cent over the past decade. Venezuela and the Central African Republic slipped the most over the past decade. Nicaragua and Latvia increased the most.