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National Happiness – 2013 Rankings

By Shlomo   Maital


  Three eminent economists – Richard Layard, John Helliwell and Jeffrey Sachs – combine to prepare an annual World Happiness Report.   Their measure is based on self-assessed happiness, interpreted as “satisfaction with life” together with the perceived emotion of wellbeing.  In their latest report,   for the years 2010-12,  (see above), Scandinavian and Northern European countries rank highest, along with Canada, Austria, and surprisingly,  my country Israel (11th), despite the Mideast conflict,  and Costa Rica, a relatively poor but serene and beautiful country.  Note that Mexico, at 16th, ranks above the United States, despite the latter’s $50,000 GDP per capita.

Why?  The answer is simple.  Happiness, note the authors, is driven in part by the standard of living (per capita GDP), but also by life expectancy, social support, freedom to make life choices, and generosity.   This is why Qatar, the wealthiest country in the world by far, with per capita GDP of nearly $100,000, ranks only 27th, because it is a rigid autocracy.

   I am amazed at how poorly individuals and whole nations practice the simple art of best-practice benchmarking.  If you are a political leader, and if your avowed goal is to improve the wellbeing of your citizens, the ones who elected you, would you not explore the world and visit the places in which people are the happiest, and try to find out why?   And would you not try to bring home some of the “recipes”  they use – income equality, social support, generosity, social cohesion?

     I get this response very often when I make this argument:   Israel is not Denmark. Followed by all the excuses.  And my response is:  Well – why isn’t it?  Can we make it so? 

     There is a lesson for individuals in this Report, not just for countries.  True, you do need a basic level of income to be happy. But you also need the love and support of family, the generosity of others, and good health (supplied, as a public good “health care”, by good governments, or at least they should).  Even if you have high income, if you lack the other ingredients, the income may not help much.  Keep this in mind.  

Thrive – Why We Underinvest in Mental Health

By Shlomo  Maital   

Obama mental health

  My career has been spent largely in Academe, producing ideas and words, words, words.  This is why I greatly admire those who generate ideas – and implement them to change the world.   This is what two creative distinguished British persons, Prof. Richard Layard, an economist,  and expert on labor economics and cost-benefit analysis, and David M. Clark, a clinical psychologist and expert on CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).

    Ten years ago, Layard and Clark joined forces and went to speak to Britain’s newly-appointed Health Minister.  Here is what they said:   “If your bone is broken, you are treated automatically; but if your spirit is broken, you are not.   …Treating mental health problems produces extraordinary savings.  They cost society nothing. The treatments pay for themselves. Yet they are provided to under a tthirdof those who need them.  This is a great injustice and a gross inefficiency.”

     They note that in Britain, 1 of 6 adults suffer from depression or crippling acute anxiety disorder.  In America, more people commit suicide than are killed in road accidents.  The World Health Organization notes that 40% of all illness in the world – is mental illness. 

     And it CAN be treated.  Layard and  Clark note that 50 per cent of those treated with CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy (an effective short-term therapy, in which patients are helped to know and understand their affliction, then engage in behaviors that mitigate or eliminate it),  recover. 

     The best part of all this?  After Layard and Clark’s intervention, Britain’s Health Minister acted, implementing a program known as “Improved Access to Psychological Therapies”,  described in Nature magazine as “world-beating” and copied by other nations.

      Creativity is not just having an idea. It is working with skill, persistence and courage to implement it.  Layard and Clark did. 

       In contrast, we have President Obama, who, like me,  is an outstanding producer of words, words, words, words…..

       For an inspiring account of creative discovery and creative delivery, read their book  Thrive:  The power of evidence-based psychological therapies,   Penguin: London 2014.  

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital