Despite Wealth, Americans Are Less Happy, Survey Finds
March 20 is the International Day of Happiness, and coincidentally the first day of spring. The day was established by the United Nations in 2012 in an effort to make the pursuit of happiness “a fundamental human goal.”
The day enshrines egalitarianism, and not unbridled capitalism, as a means of achieving societal happiness. The UN resolution that established the International Day of Happiness argues for a “more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples.”
At today’s International Day of Happiness event at the UN the World Happiness Report was released.
Produced each year since 2012, the World Happiness Report looks at data from 155 countries and considers a variety of qualities that contribute to happiness, including: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption.
For Norway, which was identified as the happiest country in the world, this report brought more good news. But for other places, like the United States and Venezuela, happiness has fallen significantly.
Here are five things we learned from the 2017 World Happiness Report:
1. Americans are becoming wealthier and less happy.
Gross Domestic Capita (GDP) per capita in the US has gone up slightly (from $50,805 in 2006-7 to $52,819 in 2015-6), but despite that happiness is actually decreasing.
“America’s crisis is, in short, a social crisis, not an economic crisis,” the author of chapter seven of the report, “Restoring American Happiness,” Jeffrey Sachs, wrote.
Although Americans make more money than people in Scandinavian countries, Sachs found, their lack of adequate social services — health care, parental leave, access to the arts, etc. — has led to a happiness deficit.
2. Norway is the happiest country in the world, barely.
For the first time, Norway was crowned the happiest country in the world, edging out Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland. But the difference between these four countries, the authors of the report note, was so miniscule as to not be statistically significant.
Moral of the story — they’re all doing pretty darn well.
3. Venezuelans are seriously unhappy right now.
The biggest drop in happiness between 2005-2006 and this year? Venezuela.
The South American country, which is heavily reliant on the boom and bust cycle of the petroleum market, has plunged into economic, social, and political uncertainty in the past decade. This shows in its happiness index, which decreased by more than 1.5 points (from 6.85/10 to 5.25/10.
That decrease in happiness is bigger than that of the Central African Republic, which is one of the ten poorest countries in the world.
4. The world is, generally speaking, happier than it was 10 years ago.
Between 2005-6 and 2014-2015, 95 countries experienced a statistically significant change in their happiness level. Of those 95, more than half — 58 countries — became happier, compared to 37 that became more unhappy in those ten years.
5. Money can’t buy you happiness, but well-managed natural oil reserves can.
The 2017 Happiness Report clearly shows that access to social services has a greater impact on happiness than having money does. For countries like Norway that are blessed with natural resources (in their case, oil) happiness doesn’t come from the wealth, but from the way that wealth is managed.
Norway has been very careful to make sure the benefits of oil exports go toward providing better-quality social services and not filling the coffers of the rich.
Things haven’t gone as smoothly in Venezuela, where, despite being blessed with natural resources, the country is veering quickly toward a widescale social crisis — with food shortages, high corruption, and a lack of trust in political institutions.
Fortunately, Venezuela is in the minority in Latin America, which (like much of the world) has become happier on the whole since the mid-2000s.