Last year I wrote a post about the ‘World Happiness Report’ published annually by the United Nations. The report ranks countries by those factors that are found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.
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The top ten positions are held by the same countries as in the last two years, although with some swapping of places. It should come as no surprise that the U.S., once again, is not in the top ten, and in fact has dropped from 14th place last year to 18th place this year. The UK remained in 19th both years.
From the Executive Summary portion of the report …
“The main focus of this year’s report, in addition to its usual ranking of the levels and changes in happiness around the world, is on migration within and between countries. Perhaps the most striking finding of the whole report is that a ranking of countries according to the happiness of their immigrant populations is almost exactly the same as for the rest of the population. The closeness of the two rankings shows that the happiness of immigrants depends predominantly on the quality of life where they now live. Happiness can change, and does change, according to the quality of the society in which people live. Immigrant happiness, like that of the locally born, depends on a range of features of the social fabric, extending far beyond the higher incomes traditionally thought to inspire and reward migration. The countries with the happiest immigrants are not the richest countries, but instead the countries with a more balanced set of social and institutional supports for better lives.”
Read that last sentence again. Ring any bells? Chapter 7 of the report addresses the U.S. specifically …
“The most striking fact about happiness in America is the Easterlin Paradox: income per capita has more than doubled since 1972 while happiness (or subjective well-being, SWB) has remained roughly unchanged or has even declined. Social support networks in the U.S. have weakened over time; perceptions of corruption in government and business have risen over time; and confidence in public institutions has waned.”
Just goes to show that old saying, “Money can’t buy happiness” is true, folks. But more to the point … Donald Trump keeps telling us that he is “making America great” by increasing jobs, bragging about the employment rates and GDP, but all of that has not added to the happiness quotient, since all the other factors affecting happiness are in decline. How ‘great’ is a country where the people are far less happy than they were a year ago?
The chart below is from the 2017 report and was not replicated in 2018, but I think it bears taking a look. It compares the U.S. to the top-ranked nations according to six variables: log income per capita (lgdp), healthy life expectancy (hle), social support (ssup), freedom to make life choices (freedom), generosity of donations (donation), and perceived corruption of government and business (corruption).The results I find most interesting are personal freedom and corruption of business & government, for those are the areas in which the U.S. is furthest from the top-ranked nations.
“Indeed, while America’s income per capita has increased markedly during the past half century, several of the determinants of well-being have been in decline. Social support networks in the U.S. have weakened over time; perceptions of corruption in government and business have risen over time; and confidence in public institutions has waned. Since these various dimensions of social capital have all been shown to be important determinants of subjective well-being, it seems likely that gains in U.S. well-being that would have resulted from rising incomes have been offset by declines in social capital. In addition to the loss of social capital, there is another possible culprit that has been less widely discussed in the context of the Easterlin Paradox. America’s public health, as measured for example by HALE, has improved much less than in most other high-income countries, and in recent years, is experiencing an outright decline.”
One of the elements affecting health is obesity. Interestingly, the U.S. is the most obese of those studied … take a look for yourself …
“The Report ends on a different tack, with a focus on three emerging health problems that threaten happiness: obesity, the opioid crisis, and depression. Although set in a global context, most of the evidence and discussion are focused on the United States, where the prevalence of all three problems has been growing faster and further than in most other countries.”
My opinion is that the current head of government and the socio-political divide that he has caused, is at least partly responsible for the rise in obesity, drug use and depression. Next year’s report should be especially interesting, and I fully expect a further drop in the U.S.’ ranking in 2019.
There is much of interest in the report, particularly the Executive Summary, Chapter 2, and Chapter 7. You may want to take a look for yourself, so here are a couple of links.