Norway tops list of who's happy
If you want to go to your happy place, you need more than cash. A winter coat helps. And so does a sense of community.
A new report shows Norway is the happiest country on Earth. Americans are getting sadder. And it takes more than just money to be happy.
Norway vaulted to the top slot. It is in the World Happiness Report. This is despite the falling price of oil. A key part of its economy is oil. Income in the United States has gone up. This is over the past decade. But happiness is declining.
The United States was 14th in the latest ranking. That is down from No. 13 last year. Over the years, Americans steadily have been rating themselves less happy.
"It's the human things that matter. If the riches make it harder to have frequent and trustworthy relationships between people, is it worth it?" asked John Helliwell. He is the lead author of the report. He also is an economist at the University of British Columbia in Canada. That country is ranked No. 7. "The material can stand in the way of the human."
Studying happiness may seem silly. But serious academics have long been calling for more testing about people's emotional well-being. This is especially true in the United States. In 2013, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report. It recommended that federal statistics and surveys include a few extra questions on happiness. Why? It would lead to better policy that affects people's lives. The surveys normally deal with income, spending, health and housing.
Norway moved from No. 4 to the top spot in the report's rankings. They combine economic, health and polling data compiled by economists that are averaged over three years. Those are from 2014 to 2016. Norway edged past previous champ Denmark, which fell to second. Iceland, Switzerland and Finland round out the top 5.
"Good for them. I don't think Denmark has a monopoly on happiness," said Meik Wiking. He is chief executive officer of the Happiness Research Institute. It is in Copenhagen, Denmark. Wiking wasn't part of the global scientific study that came out with the rankings.
"What works in the Nordic countries is a sense of community and understanding in the common good," Wiking said.
Still, you have to have some money to be happy. It is why most of the bottom countries are in desperate poverty. But at a certain point, extra money doesn't buy extra happiness, Helliwell and others said.
Central African Republic fell to last on the happiness list. It is joined at the bottom by Burundi, Tanzania, Syria and Rwanda.
The report ranks 155 countries. The economists have been ranking countries since 2012. But the data used goes back farther. So the economists can judge trends.
The rankings are based on gross domestic product per person, healthy life expectancy with four factors from global surveys. In those surveys, people give scores from 1 to 10. The ranking implies how much social support they feel they have if something goes wrong. It takes into account their freedom to make their own life choices and their sense of how corrupt their society is. And, how generous they are.
While most countries were either getting happier or at least treading water, America's happiness score dropped 5 percent. It fell over the past decade. Venezuela and the Central African Republic slipped the most over the past decade. Nicaragua and Latvia increased the most.
Study co-author and economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University said in a phone interview that the sense of community is very strong in Norway. But it is weakening in the United States.
"We're becoming more and more mean spirited. And our government is becoming more and more corrupt. And inequality is rising," Sachs said. He cited research and analysis he conducted on America's declining happiness for the report. "It's a long-term trend. Conditions are getting worse."
University of Maryland's Carol Graham wasn't a study author. But she did review some chapters. She said the report mimics what she sees in the American rural areas. She said her research shows poor whites have a deeper lack of hope. She connects it to rises in addictions to painkillers and suicide among that group.
"There is deep misery in the heartland," Graham wrote in an e-mail. She is author of the book, "The Pursuit of Happiness."
Happiness - and doing what you love - is more important than politicians think, said study author Helliwell. He rated his personal happiness a 9 on a 1-to-10 scale.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
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