Just in time for the UN General Assembly, the UN secretariat has published the second World Happiness Report. On the basis of extensive polls in 156 countries it assesses how people rate their overall happiness in life.
The result shows that, despite the 2007-08 financial crisis, the world has become slightly happier in 2012 than five years earlier.
The USA, Western Europe, Canada and Australia are rated among the happiest people on earth, while only six sub-Sahara countries (Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa and Lesotho) figure among the 100 happiest countries. This indicates that high income, good health conditions and long life expectancy are crucial in determining individual happiness. This is not very surprising.
What is more surprising is the fact that Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Austria and Iceland are, jointly with Australia and Canada, among the ten happiest countries on earth.
They have certain traits in common which may explain the reasons for their outstanding rating:
- All of them are democratically governed, with the respect of the rule of law and low corruption levels;
- Their material welfare is among the highest on earth;
- So are health standards and life expectancy;
- Economic welfare is spread without excessive wealth accumulation in a few hands;
- They can boast of well-functioning social security systems, insuring all citizens against health risks, unemployment and old age poverty;
- Their populations are relatively homogeneous and immigrants relatively well integrated;
- Their defence spending is extremely low, while education benefits from high expenditures;
- They enjoy a beautiful environment, with immense swathes of open space, low pollution levels and the absence of mega-cities.
- Last but not least, their small population offers optimal opportunities for social connectivity.
The report confirms the adage that “small is beautiful”, which seems to have fallen in oblivion.
It is the responsibility of governments to help citizens feel happy in life.
Any government should look at the 10 happiest countries which account for only one per cent of global population and ask what it can learn from them.
Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 16/9/2013