Hearts at Work
A Column by Jim Tipton
What Country is the Happiest?
Every few months I come across still another survey to determine what are the happiest countries in the world. Knowing that one can find happy people in every country in the world, I take these studies with a bucket of salt.
The January 2015 International Living summarizes the current Happy Planet Index, which ranks 151 countries (out of around 200 in the world) for happiness. The rank is based on 1) life expectancy, 2) well-being–quality of life graded by residents on a scale of 0 to 10, and 3) “ecological footprint,” a measure of sustainable resource consumption. Costa Rica topped the list as the happiest country, followed by Vietnam #2, Colombia #3. Also appearing in the top 10 were El Salvador, Jamaica, Panama, Nicaragua. Venezuela, and Guatemala.
Happy Planet Index calls itself the “leading global measure of sustainable well-being.” It is supported by some large organizations like “Friends of the Earth.” Bangladesh comes in as #11, Cuba as #12, Pakistan as #16. Let’s go much farther down the list, those countries scoring way into the bottom half for happiness…and there we find Libya as #84, Ethiopia as #94, Ukraine at #99, Sudan at #100, Belarus at #104, and then, at last, the United States of America at 105 out of 151! What nonsense! (Mexico, incidentally, comes in at #21.)
The most recent World Happiness Report (2013) prepared for the United Nations General Assembly ranks these countries as the happiest: #1 Denmark, #2 Norway, #3 Switzerland, #4 Netherlands, #5 Sweden, #6 Canada, #7 Finland, #8 Austria, #9 Iceland, #10, Australia. In this study, Costa Rica, which was #1 in the Happy Planet study was #12; Vietnam, #2 in the Happy Planet study was #63; Colombia, which was #3 in the Happy Planet study was #35. In the United Nations Report, the United States came in at #17, just after Mexico at #16.
In a new and nicely organized global survey, the highly regarded Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project recently reported (2014) that Mexico is the happiest country. (see www.pewglobal.org)
The December 31, 2014 issue of This Week tells us in a piece titled “What wealth does to your soul” that “Getting rich won’t make you happy…but it will make you more selfish and dishonest.” Michael Lewis writes that “The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that money, above a certain modest sum, does not have the power to buy happiness, and yet even very rich people continue to believe that it does: The happiness will come from the money they don’t yet have.” On average they believe that 2 ½ times what they have now will at last make them happy.
To the general rule that money, above a certain low level, cannot buy happiness there is one exception. ‘While spending money upon oneself does nothing for one’s happiness…spending it on others increases happiness.” Interestingly, “people with incomes below 25 grand give away on average 4.2 percent of their income, while those earning more than 150 grand a year give away only 2.7 percent.” A study done by the University of California at Berkeley psychology department discovered that people driving expensive cars were four times more likely to cut in front of other drivers than drivers of cheap cars” and at intersections they discovered “The drivers in the cheap cars all respected the pedestrians’ right of way. The drivers in the expensive cars ignored the pedestrians 46.2% of the time….”
Some neuroscientists are convinced that wealth actually causes chemical changes that make the wealthy “less likely to care about anyone but themselves or to experience the moral sentiments needed to be a decent citizen.” (How about this for a little aside? December 12, 2014 This Week reported that “The 400 highest earning taxpayers in the U.S. had an average tax rate of 18 percent in 2010, the latest year available…. The average income for the group was $265 million per return.”)
I think people who decide to be happy can be happy in any country, and being wealthy has nothing to do with it. The happiest country is that little country you carry inside of you, wherever you are. I watched Mother Teresa on a BBC video years ago talk about the purpose of life. “Very simple,” she said, “It is to love and be loved.”
Last week I went to the cine to see the latest Night at the Museum. In one of the earlier films in this series, Teddy Roosevelt, delightfully played by Robin Williams, begins to explain the secret of happiness to Larry, the night guard played by Benjamin Stiller, but just as Teddy is about to speak, the sun rises and he returns to wax. Late into the movie, Larry tells Teddy he thinks he has figured out what the secret of happiness is: “It is doing what you love with the people you love.” That’s good enough for me.