Switzerland tops UN Happiness Survey

by Ray Clancy on April 27, 2015

Switzerland is the happiest place for people to live, followed by Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada, according to a United Nations index.

Togo, Burundi, Syria Benin, and Rwanda and were least happy, the third annual World Happiness index produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) shows.

switzerlandThe annual report looks at 158 countries across the world and bases its rankings on data from the Gallup World Poll which takes into account variables such as real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, corruption levels and social freedoms.

‘Increasingly happiness is considered a proper measure of social progress and goal of public policy. A rapidly increasing number of national and local governments are using happiness data and research in their search for policies that could enable people to live better lives,’ the report says.

It reveals that there is a lot of year to year consistency in the way people rate their lives in different countries with just a four point gap between the 10 top-ranked and the 10 bottom ranked countries, and most of the countries in the top and bottom 10 are the same as in the
World Happiness Report 2013.

Overall, the 10 top countries are once again all small or medium sized western industrial countries, of which seven are in Western Europe. Beyond the first 10, the geography immediately becomes more varied, with the second 10 including countries from four of the nine global regions.

In the top 10 countries, life evaluations average 7.4 on the 0 to 10 scale, while for the bottom 10 the average is less than half that, at 3.4. The lowest countries are typically marked by low values on all of the six variables used by the report to explain international differences; GDP per capita; healthy life expectancy; social support; freedom, generosity and absence of corruption, and often subject in addition to violence and disease.

Of the four point gap between the 10 top and 10 bottom countries, three quarters is accounted for by differences in the six variables, with GDP per capita, social support and healthy life expectancy the largest contributors.

But it also shows how the economy can affect happiness. In Greece, for example, the global economic downturn was felt particularly hard and the happiness losses were very big and affected the erosion of the social fabric.

However, others weathered the economic downturn more easily. ‘With respect to the post 2007 economic crisis, the best examples of happiness maintenance in the face of large external shocks are Ireland and especially Iceland,’ the report explains.

‘Both suffered decimation of their banking systems as extreme as anywhere, and yet have suffered incommensurately small happiness losses. In the Icelandic case, the post shock recovery in life evaluations has been great enough to put Iceland second in the global rankings for 2012/2014,’ it adds.
When it comes to life evaluation changes there were 53 significant gainers and 41 significant losers. Gainers especially outnumbered losers in Latin America, the Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet states) and Central and Eastern Europe. Losers outnumbered gainers in Western Europe and to a lesser extent in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The research found further evidence that major crises have the potential to alter life evaluations in quite different ways according to the quality of the social and institutional infrastructure.

However, it says that if the underlying institutions and fabric are of sufficient quality, lead to improvements rather than damage to the social fabric, these improvements not only ensure better responses to the crisis, but also have substantial additional happiness returns, since people place real value on feeling that they belong to a caring and effective community.

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