Something to smile about – the world is a happier place since 2008

2013-09-29T19:00:09+00:00 September 29th, 2013|Categories: Opinion|Tags: , , , |

It’s official. You are now living in the 18th happiest nation on earth.

Not only that, but the world has become a happier and more generous place over the past five years, despite the financial collapse, while the regional distribution of happiness has become more equal.

In 2011 the UN General Assembly decided it was time to measure the happiness of people around the world, and to use this to guide their public policies. Obviously, the UN’s focus on the happiness thing doesn’t extend to providing diplomatic solutions to disputes over chemical weapons, but I suppose it’s a start.

The report, compiled from the Gallup World Poll between 2010 and 2012, cites ‘more and more’ world leaders who are ‘talking about the importance of well-being as a guide for their nations and the world’.

Apparently, these include David Cameron, whose recently introduced bedroom tax must be keeping up spirits all over the place. Angela Merkel gets a mention – no doubt, like me, you’re overjoyed to be paying those German bondholders! It also namechecks the South Korean President, Park Geun-hye. (I am not aware of any dastardly deeds Mr Park has done lately, but suggestions are welcome – he’s a politician. There has to be something.)

They’ve been quite clever in compiling how it’s done, in that the survey recognises the difference between momentary joy, and overall satisfaction with one’s circumstances, and measures both.

So, while the IT problems you’ve been experiencing all day at work may cause you to throw your computer out the window, the survey is weighted to take account of this kind of temporary homicidal tendency.

It also means you’re not necessarily going to get a comforting ‘poor but happy’ type response – people know the difference between one awful day and an awful life, and the survey does too.

It does confirm a few basic preconceptions; poor people are not, in general, terribly happy. Old-fashioned concepts like social solidarity and secure jobs are quite important to most of us. The poorest and least developed countries in the world are also the least happy.

The focus on mental health in the survey is interesting. About ten per cent of the world’s population suffers from crippling anxiety disorders or clinic depression; the biggest single cause of disability and absenteeism, and a huge economic and emotional burden. Even in advanced countries like Ireland, only a third of those who need it are in treatment, which has at least a 50% chance of success.

The usual suspects are ahead of us; those picture-perfect Scandinavian countries (no doubt the Swedes will have been bumped up a point or two after Friday), the Netherlands (the involvement of mood enhancing substances wasn’t measured) ; Canada, Australia, Iceland, Austria, New Zealand.

There are some rather strange ones, too, though. The United Arab Emirates is four places higher than Ireland, at number 14. You have to assume they didn’t interview migrant workers for that one, given the staggering abuse of domestic and other migrant workers there. Although I suppose the weather there is better.

And Mexico – which definitely has better weather, but also has the 23rd highest murder rate in the world – is at number 16, two points ahead of us.

Israel, constantly at war and in the middle of a region that’s currently even less stable than usual, is at number 11. It seems the survey only interviewed Israelis, and left ethnic Palestinians to their own devices (unsurprisingly, the Palestinian Territories come in at number 113).

Somewhat cheeringly – it’s not a competition, but come on, it is really – we’re ahead of our nearest neighbours. The UK is at number 22, while France and Germany are at 25 and 26 respectively.

The statistics are based on surveys taken between 2010 and 2012, and are compared with those from 2005-07, right at the apex of the boom, so it’s interesting to note that the happiness rate in Ireland has only reduced by .068 since the banks went bust.

Of course, there’s a possibility the people who were least happy with the bust have emigrated, and are now enjoying the increasing joy of Australia and Canada, or helping us beat the Brits by being counted in their statistics instead of ours.

Not being much of a sports fan, I’m perhaps not qualified to comment. But I have a suggestion. This is one we might just be able to win. Ireland for happiness champion of the world, 2014?


Published in the Evening Herald, 11 September 2013.

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