Monday, May 20, 2013

Happy and unhappy countries

There has been a lot of comparative research on "subjective well-being."  Usually it is measured by a question about how happy you are, using a three- or four-category scale ("very happy," "pretty happy," "not too happy," and sometimes "not happy at all").  Sometimes people are asked to rate their satisfaction with life.  A less common way is to ask people about whether they have felt various emotions recently.  The ratio or difference between prevalence of positive and negative emotions can then be used to make a measure of subjective well-being.  The 1990 World Values Survey asked all three kinds of questions:  for the exact questions about emotions, see this post.   They fell pretty clearly into two groups:  excited, proud, pleased about accomplishing something, "on top of the world," and "things are going your way" versus restless, bored, lonely, depressed, and upset at criticism.  I took the logarithm of the ratio of positive to negative emotions.

At the national level, there are substantial correlations among the three measures, but they are far from identical.  Ratings of happiness and satisfaction have a higher correlation than either one has with the measure of good to bad emotions.  This figure shows the averages for happiness (higher indicates more unhappy) vs. emotions.  There are a number of cases for which they don't match up that well.  The biggest discrepancies are for Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Latvia, which are among the least happy countries but towards the middle in terms of emotions, and Turkey and Chile, which are about average in happiness but well below average in terms of emotions.

Putting all three indicators together, the countries that were highest in subjective well-being are Switzerland, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, and Ireland.  Going on self-rated happiness alone, the leaders were the Netherlands, Iceland, Ireland, Denmark, and Belgium (Switzerland was seventh).  Either way, countries of the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe dominate the lower ranks.

No comments:

Post a Comment