Finland is the happiest country in the world, according to the annual World Happiness Report, with the UK ranked 19th this year (2018). But the report shows that countries with a higher GDP, such as the USA – ranked 18th; China – in 86th place; and Japan – 54th – don’t automatically have a happier population.
Quality of life is about more than money
Examining how happiness is measured across the globe is the subject of a major new survey, led by Paul Anand, Professor of Economics at The Open University. He says that “while different countries are doing it in different ways, there’s a growing general agreement that quality of life needs to be about more than just money, wealth and traditional measures of economic growth.”
Quality of life needs to be about more than just money, wealth and traditional measures of economic growth
The cluster of Nordic countries at the top of the World Happiness Report rankings suggests shared features of policy, geography and culture that matter, says Professor Anand: “These are countries where high taxes are used to generate relatively equal societies; where social mobility and income security are much greater as a result.”
Comparisons can be revealing
Comparing what people in different countries value is revealing, explains Professor Anand: “In both the US and the UK, having people’s rubbish cleared away is one of the things that gets done most effectively. It seems a curious chart topper, until we recognise it’s comparatively simple to deliver and easy to identify the local political actors who are ultimately responsible when things go wrong.
“In Italy, where it’s significantly harder for people to get their waste disposed of, this may reflect the fact that there are much shorter political terms and that makes it harder to call local politicians to account.
“However integrating these subjective indicators into an overarching framework of happiness and progress is not easy. How you compare your social relations with being able to get your rubbish cleared away, in quality of life terms, both matter.”
The Global Analysis of Wellbeing Report, produced by the Oxford Foundation for Knowledge Exchange, looks at how happiness is measured in nine different countries: Australia, Austria, Belarus, Bhutan, Bolivia, Denmark, Israel, Sweden and the United Kingdom. It examines how differing countries are going beyond traditional economic measures like GDP to assess the wellbeing of their citizens.
The report contains an interview with Professor John F. Helliwell, one of the authors of the United Nations’ World Happiness Reports, who outlines what he believes determines happiness.
Ways to develop happiness measures
The report recommends seven ways that happiness and wellbeing measures can develop further, across the globe:
- Work, home, community and the physical environment should all be factored in
- Involve a range of organisations and citizens in developing data
- Countries should standardise some key questions
- All age groups and life stages should be measured
- Life quality questions should be asked as part of household panel surveys
- Use some subjective measures, to get a feel for what really makes people happy
- Develop and use more data about opportunities and constraints
Take it further
Read Paul Anand’s article on how happiness is challenging GDP as the measure of a country’s health
Study Social Sciences with The Open University