Happy Notes

It’s of­fi­cial: Nor­we­gians are the hap­pi­est peo­ple in the world, but luck­ily their se­crets are re­vealed in this year’s World Hap­pi­ness Re­port.


Could it be the smoked sal­mon? The cit­i­zens of Nor­way are the hap­pi­est in the world – at least ac­cord­ing to the in­dex pub­lished in the World Hap­pi­ness Re­port by the United Na­tions. De­spite what we’ve heard about the ben­e­fits of Omega-3s, re­searchers in fact at­tribute the high level of hap­pi­ness to Nor­we­gians’ level of trust in their govern­ment and busi­nesses, hav­ing the free­dom to make their own de­ci­sions and their per­cep­tion of hav­ing good so­cial sup­port. It also helps that Nor­we­gians take good care of their chil­dren, who lacked the least in the world ac­cord­ing The Chil­dren’s Worlds in­dex of ma­te­rial de­pri­va­tion. Un­sur­pris­ingly, coun­tries like Cen­tral African Repub­lic, Bu­rundi, Tan­za­nia, Syria and Rwanda – where chil­dren aren’t so for­tu­nate when it comes to hav­ing food, a book to read or a sim­ple pair of shoes – tail the list. The good news is that this isn’t all talk and no ac­tion. The an­nual re­port has ac­tu­ally in­spired and served as a call to ac­tion for some gov­ern­ments since it was first pub­lished in April, 2012, in sup­port of the UN High Level Meet­ing on hap­pi­ness and well-be­ing. The United Arab Emi­rates, for in­stance, has added a Min­istry of Hap­pi­ness to their govern­ment struc­ture and last Fe­bru­ary, the coun­try held a full- day World Hap­pi­ness meet­ing as part of the World Govern­ment Sum­mit. Nev­er­the­less, the UAE only made it to (a still re­spectable) 21st place on this year’s list, sur­passed by coun­tries like Canada, the United States and Aus­tralia. And, the UAE’S rel­a­tively high rank­ing was re­port­edly skewed by its high GDP per capita. Still, it was con­cluded that the se­cret to col­lec­tive hap­pi­ness is about more than hav­ing a great in­come. It’s the re­sult of a bal­anced com­bi­na­tion of mea­sur­able fac­tors, in­clud­ing healthy life ex­pectancy (qual­ity, ac­ces­si­ble health­care), free­dom to make life choices (think democ­racy and equal hu­man rights), gen­eros­ity and low lev­els of per­ceived cor­rup­tion. Den­mark, Ice­land and Switzerland have con­sis­tently made the top five since the re­port was first made, and this year’s over­all re­sponses from those coun­tries were so sim­i­lar, ac­cord­ing to the re­port’s ed­i­tors, that the dif­fer­ences be­tween them are sta­tis­ti­cally in­signif­i­cant. Which is why they might make great case stud­ies for coun­tries that didn’t fare so well, in­clud­ing a few in our neck of the woods. In­creas­ingly, hap­pi­ness is con­sid­ered to be the proper mea­sure of so­cial progress and the goal of public pol­icy. It would be fit­ting, then, to use this sta­tis­ti­cal gold to in­form our own re­gional pol­i­cy­mak­ing de­ci­sions, per­haps over a hearty plate of Nor­we­gian smoked sal­mon.

In­creas­ingly, hap­pi­ness is con­sid­ered to be the proper mea­sure of so­cial progress.

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