April 3, 2012
By Daniel Tencer
The Huffington Post Canada
Canada is the fifth-happiest country in the world, according to a social and economic study from a Columbia University think tank.
The first-ever World Happiness Report, from the Earth Institute, was released Monday in time for the UN’s Conference on Happiness, and it shows that the world’s happiest countries are all in northern Europe -- Denmark, Finland, Norway and the Netherland took up the top four spots, in that order.
Canada came in fifth, well ahead of the United States at eleventh place.
While the happiest countries tend to be wealthy, and the poorest tend to be least happy (Togo, Benin, Central African Republic and Sierra Leone bottomed out the list), the report is quick to note that happiness is not just about money.
“Political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are together more important than income in explaining well-being differences between the top and bottom countries,” the report states. “At the individual level, good mental and physical health, someone to count on, job security and stable families are crucial.”
The report “reflects a new worldwide demand for more attention to happiness and absence of misery as criteria for government policy,” the authors state.
That does seem to be the case. In recent years, economists and social thinkers have been pushing for new ways to measure countries’ economic and social success, arguing that measures such as GDP aren’t nearly enough to reflect the real circumstances of a country.
One idea that is gaining some steam is Gross National Happiness, a new index that seeks to measure quality of life and happiness in a broader context than GDP.
The Asian nation of Bhutan recently became the first country to adopt the Gross National Happiness index, and its prime minister, Jigmi Y. Thinley, told the UN on Monday that the world needs to move away from GDP.
"The GDP-led development model that compels boundless growth on a planet with limited resources no longer makes economic sense. It is the cause of our irresponsible, immoral and self-destructive actions," Thinley said, as quoted at Time. "The purpose of development must be to create enabling conditions through public policy for the pursuit of the ultimate goal of happiness by all citizens."
Among some of the happiness report’s highlights:
Happier countries tend to be richer countries. But more important for happiness than income are social factors like the strength of social support, the absence of corruption and the degree of personal freedom.
Over time as living standards have risen, happiness has increased in some countries, but not in others (like for example, the United States). On average, the world has become a little happier in the last 30 years (by 0.14 times the standard deviation of happiness around the world).
Unemployment causes as much unhappiness as bereavement or separation. At work, job security and good relationships do more for job satisfaction than high pay and convenient hours.
Behaving well makes people happier.
Mental health is the biggest single factor affecting happiness in any country. Yet only a quarter of mentally ill people get treatment for their condition in advanced countries and fewer in poorer countries.
Stable family life and enduring marriages are important for the happiness of parents and children.
In advanced countries, women are happier than men, while the position in poorer countries is mixed.
Happiness is lowest in middle age.