For decades capitalist economists believed that money made people happy. And yet, the truth is that while having money is definitely preferable to being poor, there’s no positive correlation between general wealth and individual wellbeing.
Redefining Happiness & Wellbeing
Global thinkers and citizens want to define happiness and wellbeing on a much broader scale.
As countries increase their wealth, happiness levels have stayed the same. America led the way in promoting the idea that s(he) who has the most things is the happiest. At a top level, America pioneered the assumption that the greater GDP (gross domestic product), the happier that country’s population.
The problem for measurers of happiness is that as incomes have risen around the world, people’s happiness has not. This reality led two psychologists Chris Boyce at the University of Warwick and Simon Moore at Cardiff University to explore another idea.
If incomes were rising for everyone, perhaps status was the driver, meaning that if people determine their happiness based on their relative position against another person in the group, happiness levels wouldn’t rise if the entire group prospered.
An improved standard of living for all was the ‘new normal’ — so why be happier. Boyce and Moore argue that equality doesn’t make us happy.
In American terms, we want to do better than the Joneses, especially the ones living in our neighborhood, praying at our church, working with us 9-5.
The original assumption that money — and now status in relation to money and goods acquired — drives happiness are inspired by Modern values. A more egalitarian, non-hierarchal, winner-take-all approach to living is labeled socialist, uninspired and lazy.
Reality is that happiness and wellbeing research don’t support America’s argument that he who has the most toys wins the happiness game. In the happiest cultures, more female principles prevail. Interestingly, those same countries score the highest in gender equity.
Let’s examine happiness and wellbeing statistics.
In an early 2009 report from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based group of 30 countries with democratic governments that provides economic and social statistics and data, the conclusions were that happiness levels are highest in northern European countries.
We dropped in two more scores to the original OECD Top 10 list, plus America’s #11 scores.
Listening to Republicans on TV, the suggestion is that higher taxes make people dreadfully miserable. Apparently, worrying about the next guy isn’t a citizen responsibility. We save church for handouts to slackers.
If I sound harsh, I’m astounded over statements made by Republicans like Tom DeLay that the unemployed in America aren’t trying hard to find jobs. That’s classic Conservative Republican speak. Frankly, I personally know too many unemployed people in America’s recession, and I assure Tom DeLay that they are desperately trying to find work and not live on unemployment ‘handouts’.
We added global tax rates to the OECD analysis, Income Tax Rates by KPMG to see if paying taxes made people in other countries miserable. On its own merits, the answer is ‘no’. The questions is how tax money is invested in the wellbeing of citizens.
We also added a Gender Equity Rank, provided by the World Economic Forum. Do nations with higher gender equity, as measured by political participation, education, economic participation, and women’s health score higher on the happiness rank? The answer is yes.
Perhaps America’s comparatively low score of 31 — and 61 in political participation — is a source of women’s comparative discontent. Seven of these Top 10 happy countries have a Top 10 gender equity score. The Netherlands comes in at 11 on the Global Economic Forum Gender Equity index.
Satisfaction With Present Life: 90.1; Predicted Satisfaction With Future Life: 92.3; 2009 Gross Domestic Product Per Capita: $68,362; Unemployment Rate: 2%; Individual Tax Rate 62.3; Gender Equity 7
Satisfaction With Present Life: 85.9*; Predicted Satisfaction With Future Life: 88.0; 2009 Gross Domestic Product Per Capita: $55,344; Unemployment Rate: 6.4%; Individual Tax Rate 31.5; Gender Equity 2
Satisfaction With Present Life: 85.1; Predicted Satisfaction With Future Life: 88.2; 2009 Gross Domestic Product Per Capita: $55,453; Unemployment Rate: 4.5%; Individual Tax Rate 52.0; Gender Equity 11
Satisfaction With Present Life: 82.7; Predicted Satisfaction With Future Life: 85.6; 2009 Gross Domestic Product Per Capita: $54,908; Unemployment Rate: 6.4%; Individual Tax Rate 56.7; Gender Equity 4
Satisfaction With Present Life: 81.1; Predicted Satisfaction With Future Life: 91; 2009 Gross Domestic Product Per Capita: $63,788; Unemployment Rate: 6.2%; Individual Tax Rate 41.0; Gender Equity 8
Satisfaction With Present Life: 78.0; Predicted Satisfaction With Future Life: 87.3; 2009 Gross Domestic Product Per Capita: $46,799; Unemployment Rate: 6.1%; Individual Tax Rate 29.0; Gender Equity 25
Satisfaction With Present Life: 77.4; Predicted Satisfaction With Future Life: 80.9; 2009 Gross Domestic; Product Per Capita: $65,563; Unemployment Rate: 3%; Individual Tax Rate 40.0; Gender Equity 13
8. New Zealand
Satisfaction With Present Life: 76.7; Predicted Satisfaction With Future Life: 85.5; 2009 Gross Domestic Product Per Capita: $30,556; Unemployment Rate: 4%; Individual Tax Rate 39.0; Gender Equity 5
Satisfaction With Present Life: 76.5; Predicted Satisfaction With Future Life: 84.3; 2009 Gross Domestic Product Per Capita: $98,822; Unemployment Rate: 2.6%; Individual Tax Rate 40.0; Gender Equity 3
Satisfaction With Present Life: 76.3; Predicted Satisfaction With Future Life: 75.5; 2009 Gross Domestic Product Per Capita: $49,888; Unemployment Rate: 6.5%; Individual Tax Rate; Gender Equity 33
The United States ranked 11th in the survey. Individual Tax Rate 35.0
This week Gallup updated their international Global Wellbeing Survey, posting results surveyed in 155 countries, May 5-July 8, 2009. Their data is more recent than the OCED, which comes from 2008 when the global recession was settling in but not as advanced as summer 2009. Based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, Gallup asks respondents to answer this question:
The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you.
On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (ladder-present)
On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? (ladder-future)
The answers are in various stages of thriving, struggling and suffering, based on answers.
Once again, country ranks, available on Gallup’s nifty global map, confirm similar results to our other information. Ireland, in particular, has lost ground in % thriving, but the other top countries have weathered the global economic meltdown better than the US, in terms of people who say they’re thriving.
Once again, the Scandinavian countries score at the very top in every measure.
1. Denmark 82% thriving
2. Finland 75% thriving
3. Netherlands 68% thriving
4. Sweden 68% thriving
5. Ireland 49% thriving
6. Canada 62% thriving
7. Switzerland 62%
8. New Zealand 63%
9. Norway 69% thriving
10. Belgium 56% thriving
And America 57% thriving
America prides itself on being the world’s biggest economic success story. Listening to Republicans in Congress you would think that America has the world beat on just about every measure.
We do have the world beat on key individual financial measures — the most billionaires per capita. America nurtures the biggest dream of getting rich and being dripping in diamonds. But by many key measures, America is nowhere near the top, and politicians should share this information with our citizens.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy hired economist Joseph Stiglitz to propose another set of measures, beyond America’s GDP measure to quantify and qualify whether a nation is doing well. While America is having a Tea Party and wanting a return to the days of the founding fathers — no gender equity there — Europe and other countries like India are asking more intellectual and serious questions about what wellbeing really means in the modern world.
To be continued.
While I love France, we’re not looking to them for American-right answers. After the Grey Poupon disaster, even I can’t persuade Americans to consider any French ideas as worthy of implementation.
But Scandinavia is an entirely different matter. I need someone to explain to me why Scandinavia doesn’t have a lot to teach America about the art of living a high-quality life.
AND, their Internet speed leaves ours in a cloud of dust. It’s that nasty concept of investing in infrastructure.
Lastly, I’m Swedish and Danish. The more I read, the better I understand where I got my crazy-quilt of bright ideas. I used to think I was an African princess in another life. Now I know I was a Viking warrior woman. No doubt! Anne