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July 03, 2008

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Happiness is as hot a topic as it gets.  But Ronald Inglehart and a global team of researchers associated with the World Values Survey have been developing detailed data on the subject for more that four decades.  The July issue of Perspectives on Psychological Sciences contains a summary of their most recent round of results.  Here's some of the key findings from Science Daily (h/t: Charlotta Mellander).

The United States ranks ahead of more than 80 countries, but below 15 others in happiness levels, according to new World Values Survey data released in the July issue of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

The World Values Survey (WVS) is the work of a global network of social scientists who perform periodic surveys addressing a number of issues. The latest surveys, taken in the United States and in several developing countries, showed increased happiness from 1981 to 2007 in 45 of 52 countries for which substantial time series data was available ...

Denmark tops the list of surveyed nations, along with Puerto Rico and Colombia. A dozen other countries, including Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada and Sweden also rank above the United States, which maintains about the same relative position as it did in WVS's 2000 survey. ...

Even so, researchers note that wealth is important for happiness ... "The relative importance of economic prosperity to happiness changes as societies get richer," says Inglehart. "In low-income countries, one's economic situation has a huge impact on happiness. But among more prosperous countries, political freedom and social tolerance play a greater role in determining how happy people are."

Money quote, also from Inglehart: "Ultimately, the most important determinant of happiness is the extent to which people have free choice in how to live their lives."



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Zoe B

I would argue also for the ability to trust others. Without trust we each stand alone, and have to do everything for ourselves. Without trust, our national currency is paper and metal and numbers stored 'someplace'. Capitalism functions only where there is enough systemic trust for people to engage in trade. Eric Weiner's 2008 book The Geography of Bliss describes his visit to Moldova, chosen because it was ranked dead last in 'national happiness' according to the World Database of Happiness (compiled by the researcher Ruut Veenhoven). He found: "Moldovans don't trust the products they buy in the supermarket. (They might be mislabeled). They don't trust their neighbors. (They might be corrupt). They don't even trust their family members. (They might be conniving)." [p. 197] Moldovans are personally miserable and their economy sucks.

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