Happy Countries – and Unhappy Ones

By Shlomo  Maital


 A new study led by Jeffrey Sachs, called the World Happiness Report, based on a global Gallup survey, ranks countries according to self-evaluated happiness.  Here are the answers to the question,  how happy are countries and what underlies their happiness (or unhappiness)?

  * The happinest nations are, predictably, the Scandinavian countries Denmark, Finland and Norway, together with Netherlands and Canada.  All have high standards of living, and very very strong social safety nets, providing security and peace of mind to their citizens.  They also are in “good neighborhoods”, without border conflicts.

* United States, despite political gridlock, economic stagnation, and the housing bubble, ranks high (11th).  Americans are in general happy, despite the economy.

* Israel, despite wars, conflicts, threats, Iran and the bomb, ranks quite high, 14th, just behind the U.S., Costa Rica and Austria.  In general, Israelis are buoyant and contented. 

* Singapore is notably low on the list, 33rd, despite its wealth, stability and climate of security.  It falls well behind Spain, for instance, which despite everything, ranks 22nd, just ahead of France. 

*  Germany, despite its relatively strong economy, ranks 30th, just ahead of Singapore and well below France.

* The most unhappy nations are the failed states:  Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Benin, Togo, as well as Haita, Congo (both of them); in general, the bottom third of the list is full of nations in Africa. 

     In general, there seems to be little correlation between national happiness and GDP per capita.  Guyana and Malta tie with Taiwan. Bolivia ties with South Korea.  Russia ties with Peru.  Moldova, a very poor nation, ranks just ahead of Russia. 

    What we conclude is obvious:  There is no true direct link between material resources and non-material happiness.  The happinest nations are those who make the best of what they have.   Happily, as Keynes once predicted in his essay “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”,  economics has become ALMOST irrelevant.  But – there is still a way to go.