In Pursuit of a Happiness Index

The Earth Institute at Columbia University has produced their first “World Happiness Report”, in an attempt to assign value to what some may argue is impossible. Their goal was simple, to compare various nations happiness with more solid facts and draw conclusions.

The report was commissioned by the United Nations Conference on Happiness (not to be confused with the United Nations Conference on Meh, I’m Alright).

Some of their findings are expected but others are not. For example:

  • Richer people are happier than poorer people on average, but wealth is only one factor in overall happiness. The same goes for countries, where factors like personal freedom, lack of corruption, and social support are more important.
  • Unemployment obviously reduces happiness, but not because of what you may think. It’s not the loss of income, but the loss of things like self-esteem and workplace social life that lead to a drop in happiness. High unemployment rates can trigger unhappiness even in the employed, who suddenly become fearful of losing their jobs. According to the study, even low-quality jobs yield more satisfaction than being unemployed.
  • In some countries, the self-employed report higher levels of job satisfaction than the employed. The study found a positive correlation between happiness and self-employment in both American and European data, but not in Latin America. The possible reason: Self-employment may be a necessity in developing countries where formal employment is not as readily available. When it’s not a choice, it doesn’t lead to happiness.
  • Higher living standards correspond with increased happiness in some countries, but not all. In the U.S., for example, happiness levels have remained stagnant while living standards have risen over the past 50 years or so.
  • Lack of perceived equality can reduce happiness. The report explains: “The most positive results are in an interesting time-series study using both the U.S. General Social Survey and Eurobarometer. This finds that in both the U.S. and Europe increases in inequality have (other things equal) produced reductions in happiness. The effect has been stronger in Europe than in the U.S. This difference probably reflects ideological differences: Some 70% of Americans believe that the poor have a chance of escaping poverty, compared with only 40% of Europeans.”

From Fastcoexist.com

Why do you think the US “happiness level” has remained stagnant the past 50 years? Is there a sort of plateau effect, where living standard no longer matters to your happiness? Is it even possible to measure happiness?

So how long before we’re trading futures on Uruguay’s happiness index?

View this on Wall Street Oasis here.

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