In case you missed it, 6 weeks ago, 20th March, was World Happiness Day, which seems a little ironic given what has happened since then. This dates back to 2012, when the United Nations passed a resolution recognising World Happiness Day, sponsored by Bhutan. This is unsurprising since, in the early 1970s, they adopted Gross National Happiness as a more important objective than Gross Domestic Product, with all major new projects having to measure their impact on the country’s Gross National Happiness before being approved. The UN motion was recognition that there was dissatisfaction with measuring wellbeing by looking solely at GDP and countries should be seeking to measure a wider view of welfare which includes health, education, sustainability, equity, etc. David Cameron, when elected Prime Minister in 2010, promoted this approach and, in 2011, the UK’s Office for National Statistics carried out its first happiness survey to measure well-being. Like other such surveys, they asked four questions – how satisfied are you with your life, to what extent do you feel things you do are worthwhile, how happy did you feel yesterday and how anxious did you feel yesterday – and people answered on a scale of 10 (very) to 0 (nil). Their recent survey (March 2018 to March 2019), found a slight improvement in average happiness from 7.52 to 7.56, with the greatest improvement coming in London. While the answers to these questions are subjective, by comparing them over time we can see how people’s perceptions change.
The latest UN Report found that, for the third year in a row, Finland is the happiest country in the world, having overtaken Norway in 2018, while the UK is 13th and the least happy country is Afghanistan.
Country Happiness Rankings 2020
- New Zealand
For the first time, the UN looked at the happiest cities and, not surprisingly Finland’s capital Helsinki was top, followed by Aarhus, Denmark and Wellington, New Zealand. London was the UK’s happiest city, coming 36th in the UN rankings.
Another well-known measure is the Happy Planet Index which considers wellbeing, using the world Happiness Survey but supplementing it by considering life expectancy, inequality and the impact the average inhabitant makes on the environment. Their results (2016) are very different to the UN analysis with Costa Rica first, followed by Mexico and Columbia and Chad last, preceded by Luxembourg.
Some parts of the world have gone even further. Maryland, in the USA, uses a Genuine Progress Index which starts with GDP and then adjusts it by adding a value for invisible “goods” e.g. leisure time, volunteering, & housework and subtracting a value for “regrettables” e.g. , inequality, pollution, commuting time and crime prevention spending such as burglar alarms.
With so many different measures, it is not surprising that there are so many different rankings. Possibly the only definite fact is that welfare is hard to measure.