2018 World Happiness Report

World Happiness Report 2018Last 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. 

Rank 2017 2018
1 Norway Finland
2 Denmark Norway
3 Iceland Denmark
4 Switzerland Iceland
5 Finland Switzerland
6 Netherlands Netherlands
7 Canada Canada
8 New Zealand New Zealand
9 Australia Sweden
10 Sweden Australia

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).comparison to high ranked nationsThe 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 …obesity

“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.

Executive Summary

Full Report

56 thoughts on “2018 World Happiness Report

  1. Dear Jill,

    Happiness cannot be found by moving, or a better partner, or more goodies. It comes from within. That joy of the little things that are not so little. Like a song, a beautiful garden, time with family, fun with pets. For me, happiness means taking a trip once and awhile.

    Happiness would be getting our country back. Otherwise, I’m giving serious thought of moving to Canada. Not really, only because I hate the thought of moving.

    Hugs, Gronda

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  2. Apparently the rich and famous have little reason to worry about these facts as it’s the rest of us who suffer in our country. We have so much to learn. From other countries bit we have a President who “shuts the door”on global understanding.

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    • I suspect the rich and famous are profoundly unhappy, else why would they keep striving for more of that which didn’t make them happy to begin with? And you are right … cultural diversity has so much value, but yet is shunned by Trump and his followers who want nothing more than a homogeneous white, Christian society.

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  3. How can you not be happy with such a jovial, roly-poly, don’t-give-a-damn, media-star, not-tainted-by-Washington, bundle of fun in the Whitehouse? The trouble with you folk is you will not admit you’ve never been so happy since the results of the presidential elections of 2016, and that is making you miserable. C’mon, turn that frown upside down, borrow a few million for some nebulous scheme then declare yourselves bankrupt and keep the cash, then you’ll see how happy you are!
    Remember Happiness is God’s Gift and is enshrined in the Constitution, if you are not happy then you must be some kind of socialist and un-American, I know it’s true because I read it on a website; ‘WhoNeedsIntelligence-squeak-squeak.com’
    And as for the UK. 19th? We’ll we’re consistent! Anyway being happy is not a British thing not when we’ve got The Weather (any weather, it doesn’t matter) to complain about. You leave us alone, we have been grumbling since most of the top bits fell off of Stonehenge (Knew it would happen! Told you didn’t I? It’s wrong sort of stone. And trying to put it up in that sort of weather….well I ask you!)

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    • How can you not be happy with such a jovial, roly-poly, don’t-give-a-damn, media-star, not-tainted-by-Washington, bundle of fun in the Whitehouse?

      I’ll admit that the entertainment is good. But I would be happier if our values were not under threat.

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    • You are so spot-on, Sir Roger!!! We are naught but a bunch of ingrates too spoiled to even realize that we have the best of all possible worlds! 🤦 I smack meself upside the bloomin’ ‘ead for being such a ninny and always lookin’ for that pot at the end of the rainbow, when the whole bloody rainbow is in me ‘ands!!! Whatever have me an’ me countrymen been thinking??? Thank you for showing us ‘ow grand our lives are! And as a thank you gift, we are sending you a bit of our own joy! I’ll not spoil the surprise by telling you who or what … you’ll find out soon enough, and then you can be as happy as we are!!! 😂

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  4. Seems to me what is being discussed here is the equitable sharing of resources. We feel best when we live within an egalitarian society. The huge problem with current “predatory” or “hoarding” capitalism is that it chokes the flow of capital, allowing it to only flow in one direction: from those it is being taken to those who already have a surfeit. Therefore the machine is faulty since in order to function properly capital must flow in all directions. If happiness is what is being sought and if gregarious Earthians can only get it through equal sharing, then we need to design new machinery to unstop the great dam the current machine has created. Of course breaking down a dam of such massive dimensions that was ignorantly allowed to be built by those fearful of the cry “Flood!” causes massive and unavoidable flooding… It would have been much wiser to endure the little floods, the times of scarcity, than to go and cower under the shadow of the one big dam. Now quite understandably, we have no idea what to do. We know the dam will burst; we know we’re in the path of the killing flood that’s coming but the owners of the dam have left us with no place to escape. “It’s a fine mess you got us into, Stanley!”

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  5. I think that ‘contentment’ is a better word. It starts within as one accepts his/herself. It manifests itself in terms of empathy for others and lending a helping hand. Good to see Canada sitting at #7. Fascinating post, Jill!

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    • Thanks John! I agree with you … I like contentment better, and I think in order to be content with oneself, to be comfortable in one’s own skin, one simply must care about others and feel compassion. I don’t understand how some people even sleep at night, let alone achieve a state of contentment. People like you and I may not have much in the way of material possessions, but I think we have something much more important. Yes, Canada is right up there! Good job!!! I’m not surprised by that, but was surprised by the UK ranking. Perhaps the whole Brexit controversy has brought theirs down.

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      • Interesting comment about the UK. I know that PM May has slashed government funding to education and social programs since she came to power. Brexit certainly is a hot-button issue over there and I can see why.

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  6. There is a constant attack on our happiness by progress , after all who could be happy with a black and white TV or an out of date mobile phone. I can remember when two weeks holiday a year within a train journey was happiness for many families, but now we must fly abroad and have twenty five days holiday each year.
    Once a man has enough to eat and a safe place to keep warm and sleep he will look around for more . Once a poor migrant gets into a rich country his happiness will rise and then he will start to look for more. The natural state of human nature is discontent , so we must take ourselves in hand and learn contentment. The religious equivalent ( for even the devout feel the disease) is ‘ count your blessings’ .

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    • You are quite right … we are never quite satisfied, always thing there must be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But then … there are Tibetan monks who seem content without worldly goods. Perhaps the difference is they don’t look around and see what others have and thus don’t become jealous, and they don’t see all the glitzy ads on television showing that you simply must have the latest toy or gadget.

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      • Bangkok’s prestigious Chulalongkorn university pointed out that 48% of Buddhist monks are obese and 42% suffer from high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Don’t worry they have launched a programme to tackle monk obesity also to increase the monks physical activity.
        This is the bit I love Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya Buddhist diversity are training cooks to help overcome the ticking time bomb.

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          • Sha’Tara show some respect for this world famous university it has given honorary degrees to no less than : Lyndon Johnson , Bill Clinton , and Nelson Mandela . Many would give their right arm to be admitted to study at such a place.

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        • Hmmmm … too much of the sedentary lifestyle, I suppose. I’m so relieved to know that the problem is being addressed, though. I wonder if they have lower life expectancy rates than the general population in Tibet?

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  7. I think happiness or contentment comes from both…within, when you recognize helping others even in small ways ( a simple smile or hello) makes you feel good about yourself and also an internal sense of what being grateful means to ourselves for all the things nature has provided from actual food to scenic beauty.

    Outside contentment comes from family, friends, financial security (not wealth), a pleasant home, good health and things of this nature.

    But it is a big issue when you see your country sliding down a path that will only lead to less happiness or contentment, less financial security for many, less available healthcare, lessening of good education for many and environmental change that will have a huge effect for further generations. But a third of the country is blind to this and another third are apathetic.

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    • You made some very astute observations in your assessment of what constitutes happiness or contentment! I agree completely. And it is indeed sad and frightening to see what is becoming of this country for it leaves us vulnerable. The greatest frustration for me is those 2/3 that you mention, half of whom are seeking some pie-in-the-sky ideal that they think Trump can fulfill, and the other half, as you say, simply don’t care. I have had some of those tell me that the country has had problems before and they always worked themselves out and so will this. Some days I think smacking them upside the head might be the best idea! 😉

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  8. The divide is what caused the new head of state, not the other way around. Sure I’m angry at government, since it caused 1/3 of the instructors of the company I worked for to get laid off: 2 new laws in 2011

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  9. Jill, that is such a great “cry from the heart” this reply of yours to Keith. Never mind the nation, it’s people, individuals, who must recognize what you say, that there are other people in the world who matter just as much as we do, as “I” do. That’s the key. But it isn’t just capitalism that stands in the way of that happening, it’s any and all isms. We must decide to see each other as individuals, and having equal rights and shares to the bounty, or lack, provided by our one and only world.

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    • You are quite right … it is all the ‘isms’ and the phobias that keep us from figuring out that we have all he tools at our disposal for happiness, or contentedness, but we are greedy and always seem to think that ‘more’ is ‘better’. It isn’t.

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  10. Well, at least my inbox is happy…you were missed! “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.” – Mahatma Gandhi. By Jove, I think he’s got it! Trump doesn’t, nor does he inspire it. An interesting report. Thank-you!

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    • Awwww … I am so happy to know I was missed, even though for only a day! That’s such a great quote, and so very true. I think people place too much emphasis on the word “happiness” … I prefer to think of it as contentment. And those who go looking for happiness, like those who sit and wait for it to fall in their laps, are destined to never find it, I think, for it comes from within. I actually feel sorry for people who think a bigger house or more expensive car, more bells & whistles, more toys will bring them happiness. It’s a matter of learning to be comfortable in your own skin, to live with your own conscience. And no, Trump doesn’t inspire it, but he is where he is as a result of shallow-minded people who believe he can give them things that will make them happy. Sigh.

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  11. I don’t question the conclusions, but I do wonder how they reach them. How does one quantify “honesty,” or “caring,” for example? But this is not really a surprise, and the important thing to note is that the happiest people seem to be the ones who do not spend their lives trying to collect as much “stuff” as possible before they die!

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    • Just a footnote: I believe all of these countries, with the possible exception of Australia and New Zeland, are socialistic democracies. Coincidence?? I wonder. Also, Finland has the best education system in the world.

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    • You are absolutely right about that, my friend. I find, the older I get, that the ‘stuff’ just adds to the angst … having to look after it, clean it, find a place for it. I’m in ‘minimizing’ mode these days! I’ve always believed that happiness comes from within ourselves, and those who sit around waiting for it to come to them are doomed to never be happy.

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    • My pleasure! Yes, it surprised me last year to find we ranked 14th, for I surely thought we should have landed somewhere below 50, and the only thing that surprised me about this year’s drop was that it didn’t drop more. Watch out for next year!

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  12. Re the US obesity ratings: I’m only surprised the trend isn’t much worse. On happiness, well, it’s a subjective thing and really, much ado about nothing. Forget seeking happiness, it’s a chimera. Two things that drive an evolved human being: joy and sorrow. These are “selfless” expressions of what surrounds one. These are the questions that should be asked: how would you rate your joy and your sorrow? Why? Because these indicate the level of empathy the person has developed.

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    • I absolutely agree with you that the more one ‘seeks’ happiness, the more elusive it becomes and the less likely that one will find it. I think, for the purposes of this report, the more apt term would be ‘contentment’. Basically, I think one finds happiness within, when one is ‘comfortable in one’s own skin’, as I usually say. And, if you ask 100 people to define the word ‘happiness’, I suspect you would get 100 different answers. Personally, contentment is fine with me, and I am comfortable in my own skin, so I don’t seek anything more.

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        • To Hugh: I think only partially guilty as charged in that I don’t hold much for happiness. My growing up years held so little actual happiness that they would have been truly disastrous had I not looked beyond the experience. On the other hand joy, a much deeper concept, is found within but is also achieved through loss and self-sacrifice. In happiness, the “giver” to my understanding, expects to find her/his own happiness in trying to make others happy, however that translates. The problem is, happiness is a hit-and-miss shooting in the dark, dependent on the vagaries of daily life. Joy is anchored in one’s compassionate nature and nothing external can affect that – it is a personal thing. However, it is best expressed to the self through service of others and by giving, often going beyond just sharing and walking tip-toed through the fields with the awareness that one is self-denying that others may benefit. Happiness is short-lived and requires constant re-firing. Joy is a constant companion in one’s life. To explain the great difference between joy and happiness… way beyond my words but I can say this from experience that joy turns loss, pain, suffering of self and others, into what I term “sorrow” where all the terrible things are understood and “acceptable” (not the best word) without bringing on anger, stress or depression. Instead of swimming in the ocean as a piece of flotsam, you become a wave in the ocean and you no longer drown in its immensity. I would never dare call myself a Pollyanna but internal joy floats the concept.

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  13. Some people just find happiness in the happiness of others, seeing others smile. It’s not always easy to do that when the news is full of the unnatural misery of the world, the hate, the racism the misogyny, the bullying and the killing.We have to want to work towards something better before it’s going to happen, especially in the States where Beloved Leader actively encourages half those things.
    Cwtch.
    I just had some fun going through and replying to some of Beloved Leader’s tweets. I felt if he only wanted good immigrants to the U.S he might be leading the exodus of the shite.

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    • Similar to what you say, I’ve always felt that happiness comes from within, comes from feeling that one does the right thing, at least most of the time, and treats others fairly. All the material ‘stuff’ in the world means naught to me if I don’t feel good about myself and my treatment of others. The problem in the U.S. isn’t so much the leader, I think, but the people and attitudes that put him there. Those people are labouring under the false apprehension that they are somehow deserving of more than others, and as long as they think that way, they will never really find happiness.

      Ha ha … it IS fun to do that sometimes, isn’t it? When I get so full of angst that I cannot concentrate, I do that either to Trump or some of his minions and it is as good a stress reliever as going outside and screaming! And less likely to have my neighbors calling the cops on the crazy lady next door! 😀

      xxx Cwtch xxx

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  14. Jill, it is hard to be happy in a materialistic based society, so says numerous sociologists. Getting more stuff will not make us happier. Compound that with over 40 million in poverty and the cultural divides created by narrow minded politicians and pseudo news people, and we have lost the path forward. We must regain our sense of community and invest in such or we cannot find that path. This President is of no help in this regard. Keith

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    • You are spot-on, Keith! No amount of detritus will bring happiness if you don’t feel good about yourself, if somewhere within that thing we call a conscience, you know you have mistreated others or been unfair. This nation is on the wrong path and I don’t see it changing until some people wake up and realize that there are other people in this world who matter just as much as they do. Until they open not only their pockets, but their hearts as well. I wonder, though, if capitalism isn’t a barrier to that ever happening?

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      • Jill, before I read your post, there was a report on CBS Sunday morning about happiness. A man gave up a high six figure salary to become a firefighter in Dallas. He was miserable in the former job and is very content in the second. Another person raised her children to give back, so when she told a friend her son wanted to teach high school, the friend said he is smart and can do better than that thinking of money. The proud mother said he wants to do what he loves to do – help others.

        The documentary “I am” interviewed many sociologists, doctors, theologians, and psychologists about happiness. The conclusion is having lots of money does not make you happy,, but having too little can make you unhappy because of the inability to take care of basic needs. So, once you have enough to meet your needs, there is a diminishing marginal return. Good discussion. Keith

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        • So, some people actually do figure out that money and ‘stuff’ doesn’t provide happiness … that’s encouraging. And what a difference between the people you mentioned and that 1% who can never seem to be content, even though they have billions of dollars and can buy virtually any “thing” they want? Perhaps they would find more joy in their lives if they shared all that wealth with those who have next to nothing?

          I haven’t seen that documentary, but have read similar reports about the laws of diminishing returns as regard both economics and personal contentment, and I agree, once our needs are met, who needs more ‘stuff’? It’s just something to have to dust every week, the way I look at it! Yes, definitely a good discussion! Much food for thought in this, isn’t there?

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