The Science of Happiness, Part 2: Do You Live In A Happy Country?

Map of the WorldIn Part 1 of this series on the Science of Happiness, I wrote about a happiness set point.

This is Part 2, where we take a look at the relationship between happiness and geography.

Is where you live correlated with how happy you are? —  The answer is yes. But it is a complicated answer. There is a lot of research on the relationship between happiness and geography. As you might imagine, the results depend at least partially on which questions you ask. If you ask people how satisfied they are with their life, and how they felt about the previous day, then you get the data that Forbes reported on from Gallup. The top “happiest” countries according to Gallup are:

  1. Denmark
  2. Finland
  3. Norway
  4. Sweden
  5. The Netherlands

at the bottom of the list of 155 countries are:

  1. Sierra Leone
  2. Cambodia
  3. Comoros
  4. Burundi
  5. Togo

On the Gallup list the United States is #14 and the UK is #17

(If, instead of asking people you measure things like income, access to education, etc, you get very different data, in other words, objective measures don’t agree with subjective measures. A great source of objective measures is the UN’s Human Development Indicators).

Gross National Happiness — In his book, The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner covers the research on happiness and geography, with a bit of satire thrown in. He travels to several of the countries at the top of the list, a few in between, and a few at the bottom, and writes about his adventures, including his visit to Bhutan where they invented and use a GNH (Gross National Happiness) index to make policy decisions instead of the GNP (Gross National Product) or GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

Trust is the Key — Weiner summarizes the research this way: The more the people in a country trust their government, the higher up they are on the happiness scale. Another strong factor is the amount of family and social ties that the people in that country have.

Time to move to Denmark? — What do you think? Should we all go move to the Scandinavian countries that rank high? Is this just a correlation and not a causation? Do you think geography is linked to happiness?

If you’d like to dig deeper:

Eric Weiner, The Geography of Bliss, Twelve, 2008

Forbes article on the Gallup research

UN Human Development Indicators


100 Things You Should Know About People: #72 — Trust Is The Best Predictor Of Happiness


Book Cover of The Geography of BlissIf you want to know who is happiest, then figure out who feels the most trust.Which country has the happiest people? — Eric Weiner traveled all over the world in search of answers to the questions: Which countries have the happiest people and why? His answers surprised him and they surprised me too. Based on research, Iceland comes out towards the top of the pile, and Saudi Arabia towards the bottom.

Happiness factors — Here is some of what he discovered and writes about:

Extroverts are happier than introverts.

Optimists are happier than pessimists.

Married people are happier than singles, but people with children are the same as childless couples.

Republicans are happier than democrats.

People who go to church are happier than those who don’t.

People with college degrees are happier than those without, but people with advanced degrees are less happy.

People with an active sex life are happier than those without.

Women and men are equally happy, but women have a wider emotional range.

Having an affair will make you happy, but not if your spouse finds out and leaves you.

People are least happy when they are commuting to work.

Busy people are happier than those with too little to do.

Trust is the best predictor — But the best predictor of happiness is trust. If people trust the people around them, friends, and family, and if they trust their government, then they will score highest on the happiness surveys.

What do you think? Why is trust such a big predictor?

Eric Weiner’s book is a informative, but it’s also a fun read, filled with interesting stories as he travels all around the world. I highly recommend it, and here’s a link for the book at Amazon: