According to a broad new global happiness survey published Monday, Argentina is now the 32nd happiest nation in the world. That’s up from 36th a couple of years ago, according to a study led by University of Michigan professor Ronald Inglehart. But Argentines are not the only people who seem to be getting happier.
“People in most countries around the world are happier these days, according to newly released data from the World Values Survey based at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Data from representative national surveys conducted from 1981 to 2007 show the happiness index rose in an overwhelming majority of nations studied.”
The study, which relied on self-reported subjective descriptions of happiness, examined felicidad and other matters in 52 countries over the course of those years. The 2007 survey studied happiness in 97 countries representing around 90% of the planet’s population.
Residents of Denmark reported being the happiest in the world. The most unhappy people are those who live in Zimbabwe, a country dominated by authoritarian strongman Robert Mugabe.
The survey has interviewed more than 350,000 people since its inception. It asks two basic questions when looking at happiness: “Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, rather happy, not very happy, not at all happy?” And, “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?”
Over a period of 17 years, reported happiness levels rose in 40 countries and declined in 12. The number of people who reported being “very happy” rose by seven percentage points.
“Most earlier research has suggested that happiness levels are stable,” Inglehart said in a statement. “Important events like winning the lottery or learning you have cancer can lead to short-term changes, but in the long run most previous research suggests that people and nations are stuck on a ‘hedonic treadmill.’ The belief has been that no matter what happens or what we do, basic happiness levels are stable and don’t really change.”
The study’s authors elaborate:
The new findings … show that during the past 25 years happiness has in fact risen substantially in most countries. In recent decades, low-income countries such as India and China have experienced unprecedented rates of economic growth, dozens of medium-income countries have democratized and there has been a sharp rise of gender equality and tolerance of ethnic minorities and gays and lesbians in developed societies.
Economic growth, democratization and rising social tolerance have all contributed to rising happiness. Democratization and rising tolerance (have) even more impact than economic growth. All of these changes have contributed to providing people with a wider range of choice in how to live their lives (and this) is a key factor in happiness.
The people of rich countries tend to be happier than those of poor countries. But even controlling for economic factors, certain types of societies are much happier than others.
“The results clearly show that the happiest societies are those that allow people the freedom to choose how to live their lives,” Inglehart says.
As an example, Inglehart points to the tolerant social norms and democratic political systems in Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Canada all of which rank among the 10 happiest countries in the world.
Argentina returned to democracy in 1983. Since then its social environment has experienced impressive changes while simultaneously experiencing terrific bouts of political and economic jaundice. But with the exception of the 2001-2002 meltdown (and this is a big exception), the country’s economy has evolved and experienced relatively stable growth.
It is somewhat ironic that Argentines, who are famous for complaining about themselves, their compatriots, their government and their country, rank in the top third tier of nations in terms of self-reported happiness. But this seems easier to comprehend if economic growth, gender equality, social tolerance and personal opportunity really are key contributors to happiness. Equally as important, however, are definitions and perceived definitions of happiness. These can and do vary across countries and cultures. Inglehart and his colleagues explore this in-depth and you can find out more about it here.
The top 10 happiest countries are:
2) Puerto Rico
5) N Ireland
The U.S. ranked 16th on the survey. Despite being the wealthiest nation in the world, its social environment is characterized by greater social inequality than is found in the top 10 countries, according to Inglehart. He says the US also scores lower because it lacks universal health care.
Only four countries (Austria, Belgium, South Korea and the UK) seem to have happiness levels that are declining as part of a trend.
The complete list can be seen here.