April 24, 2015


Why North Europeans Are the Happiest People (Leonid Bershidsky, 4/24/15, WSJ)

The report's authors say six variables account for three-quarters of the differences in happiness levels among countries: Gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and freedom from corruption. Two of these -- social support and generosity -- are relatively independent of economic development or the political system, which explains why some relatively poor, institutionally weak countries have happier populations than the strongest Western democracies. For example, Mexicans are happier than Americans, Brazilians enjoy higher perceived well-being than the residents of rich, free Luxembourg, and Venezuelans like their life better than Singaporeans.

A country is an all-around winner, however, when it's rich, healthy, free and populated with generous people who support one another when there's trouble. One has to wonder if Northern Europe's Law of Jante might not be responsible for the presence of Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden among the world's 10 happiest nations. Scandinavians may scoff at that creed, which makes individualism a crime, but it does make for unusually strong social support networks. That's how the authors explain Iceland's surprising resilience during an economic collapse, and its second place in the rankings. That country has the highest percentage in the world of people who say they have someone to count on in times of crisis.

The report contains a chapter that stresses the role of "relational goods," such as reciprocity and simultaneity (which describes people taking part in meaningful activities together), in building happy nations. People are happier when they're socially fulfilled, perhaps as members of a group (both group membership and happiness levels are high in Scandinavia) [...]

The happiest countries are participatory. That goes for Switzerland with its direct democracy and tight-knit local communities, as well as for the Scandinavian countries, which, as Sachs wrote in his chapter of the report, have "perhaps the highest social capital in the world." Participation and deliberative democracy help to build mutual trust, an important part of social capital. People are more willing to pay taxes, less prone to corruption, and expansive social safety nets become the norm.

This kind of social fabric, however, is finely woven and delicate. The happiest countries in the world have small populations (the biggest country in the top 10 is Canada, with 35 million people).

Posted by at April 24, 2015 5:05 PM

blog comments powered by Disqus