US Ranked Number 16 In World Happiness
July 16, 2008
We're number 16 ... in world happiness. Feel the joy.
The United States ranks ahead of more than 80 countries, but below 15 others in
happiness levels, according to new World Values Survey data released in the July
issue of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.
The World Values Survey (WVS) is the work of a global network of social
scientists who perform periodic surveys addressing a number of issues. The
latest surveys, taken in the United States and in several developing countries,
showed increased happiness from 1981 to 2007 in 45 of 52 countries for which
substantial time series data was available. Survey analysis was funded by the
National Science Foundation.
Researchers responsible for the analysis, from the University of Michigan's
Institute for Social Research (ISR) in Ann Arbor, say the overall rise in
reported happiness is due to greater economic growth, democratization and social
Denmark tops the list of surveyed nations, along with Puerto Rico and Colombia.
A dozen other countries, including Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada
and Sweden also rank above the United States, which maintains about the same
relative position as it did in WVS's 2000 survey.
"Though by no means the happiest country in the world, from a global
perspective the U.S. looks pretty good," says Ronald Inglehart, a political
scientist at the university, who directs the study. "The country is not
only prosperous; it ranks relatively high in gender equality, tolerance of
ethnic and social diversity and has high levels of political freedom."
Researchers measured happiness by simply asking people how happy they were, and
how satisfied they were with their lives as a whole. Ninety-seven percent of
respondents--an exceptionally high response rate--gave answers that strongly
correlated with how satisfied they were with various aspects of life such as
gender equality and tolerance of minorities.
Interestingly, countries whose respondents reported high levels of happiness
were much likelier to be democracies than were countries that rank lower in
terms of their citizens' happiness.
U.S. Happiness and Recent Public Opinion Polls
Though happiness levels are rising in the world as a whole, the report comes at
an interesting time for Americans, when recent public opinion polls report
striking dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. affairs.
According to an April 2008 New York Times/CBS News public opinion poll, some 81
percent of Americans say they believe the country is on the "wrong
track." The response is the most negative in the 25 years pollsters have
asked the question.
In addition to the war in Iraq and the threat of terrorism, observers contribute
high dissatisfaction to talk of potential recession, home foreclosure rates and
"Americans' dissatisfaction with the country's current direction pulls down
their sense of subjective well-being," says Inglehart. "But this is
partly offset by other factors. The fact that Americans live in a free and
tolerant society has more impact on happiness than economic prosperity or even
"Ultimately, the most important determinant of happiness is the extent to
which people have free choice in how to live their lives."
Money Can't Buy Happiness, But Has Huge Impact
Even so, researchers note that wealth is important for happiness. Not
surprisingly, three of the world's poorer countries with long histories of
repressive government--Moldova, Armenia and Zimbabwe--are at the bottom of the
happiness list. Virtually all of the lowest ranking nations struggle with
legacies of authoritarian rule and widespread poverty.
"The relative importance of economic prosperity to happiness changes as
societies get richer," says Inglehart. "In low-income countries, one's
economic situation has a huge impact on happiness. But among more prosperous
countries, political freedom and social tolerance play a greater role in
determining how happy people are."
They also play a role in improving a nation's long-term happiness.
National Happiness Can Be Improved for the Long Term
Earlier research suggests that happiness levels are stable and cannot be
lastingly improved; some studies even indicate that happiness is genetically
determined to a considerable extent. But the WVS data, which covers 97 nations
containing almost 90 percent of the world's population, shows that happiness
levels of both individuals and entire societies can change.
Inglehart argues that improving economic conditions and rising political and
social freedom can improve satisfaction within whole societies long term.
For example, the United States, though ranking relatively high in many factors
that contribute to happiness, has room for improvement in such areas as social
solidarity and universal health coverage, says Inglehart. "To some extent,
well-designed social policy can help raise U.S. happiness levels even
more," he says. "Policies that help increase the society's sense of
solidarity and tolerance may also help."
The World Values Survey has measured happiness since 1981. Its researchers have
interviewed more than 350,000 people.
Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal
agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of
science and engineering, with an annual budget of $6.06 billion. NSF funds reach
all 50 states through grants to over 1,900 universities and institutions. Each
year, NSF receives about 45,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes over
11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $400 million in professional and
service contracts yearly.
Source: Bobbie Mixon
Medical News Today: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com
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