People living in Denmark are the happiest in Europe while those living in Portugal are the least happy, according to a study from Cambridge University.
But no where in Europe did the majority of the population declare themselves happy, the newly published study, Flourishing Across Europe, also found. It questioned 43,000 people in 23 countries.
In Denmark some 41% of the population declared themselves happy, followed by 31% in Switzerland, 28% in Austria, 27% in Finland and 26% in Norway.
The most miserable countries, according to the research, were Portugal and Russia, both with just 9% of the population feeling happy, then Slovakia with 10%, Bulgaria 11% and Ukraine 13%.
The findings were based on answers given by 43,000 people in 22 countries to a poll carried out in 2006 and 2007, before the recession and the eurozone crisis, so it is possible people in Europe are currently even unhappier.
The study looked at ten key areas of life including competence, optimism and self esteem, thought to constitute positive well being, to identify if those surveyed were flourishing.
The residents of Northern European countries were reckoned to be the happiest, followed by those in Southern Europe, with Eastern Europeans the least cheerful.
A number of the study’s conclusions appeared to confirm stereotypes. The five nations ranked highest for competence, for example, were Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Austria and Germany. And Russians were bottom for optimism.
Some countries had large variations. For example, France had the highest score in Europe on engagement but the lowest on self esteem and was among the lowest on optimism and positive relationships. In contrast, Spain had the highest score on self esteem, but the lowest on measures of competence and vitality.
The UK was near the middle in overall well being, as well as in almost every feature and an overall happiness score of 20%, the same as Germany.
‘The key message is that the UK Government, like many around the world, now recognises that economic measures such as gross domestic product do not provide adequate information about a society’s progress,’ said Professor Felicia Huppert, who led the Cambridge research.
‘Governments also need to evaluate how citizens experience their lives, that is to measure their well being,’ she added.
The conclusion of the study is that a multi dimensional approach can provide a deeper understanding of well being than single indicators such as measures of happiness or life satisfaction, which have been widely used to date.
‘If policy makers want to improve well being, the approach used in our study can identify which aspects of well being need to be targeted in particular groups or nations. In the same way that improving GDP involves identifying the specific components of the GDP which need adjusting, so too improving well being requires identifying the specific components of well being which could benefit most from policy interventions,’ said Huppert, director of the Well Being Institute at Cambridge and technical advisor for the Office of National Statistics Measuring National Well Being initiative.