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Some Countries Are Happier Than Others. Right?

Froma Harrop on

Finland is the world's happiest country -- fourth year in a row! So says the World Happiness Report, produced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The United States ranks 14th, right behind Ireland and ahead of Canada.

The report authors based their conclusions on interviews with more than 350,000 people in 95 countries. One of their questions was "Did you smile ... a lot yesterday?"

Had I been asked that, I might have said, "Yes, I smiled at a report making impossible comparisons based on questionable markers for contentment. By the way, what do you mean by 'happiness'?"

The report purports to compare the happy factor in Finland, a Nordic country of 5.5 million people, 91 percent of them ethnic Finns, with, say, the United States, a multiracial, multi-religion, multi-everything country of 330 million running from the Arctic to the tropics.

Generalize, shall we?

No doubt Finland is a promising place to find contentment. College there is free, and the saunas are the best. But Finland does have one of the lowest birthrates in the world, and that is not a great sign.

 

This whole exercise of trying to measure happiness is fraught with questionable assumptions about what makes people happy. The researchers consider gross domestic product per capita, the higher GDPs per capita presumably conferring greater happiness. But, apparently, low-income levels in South America didn't seem to depress happiness, and higher levels in some Eastern European countries didn't seem to raise it.

The concept that some places produce more happiness than others has been extended to the states. Again, the outcomes depend entirely on what the studies use as gauges.

Consider the case of Louisiana. In 2014, researchers at Harvard University and the University of British Columbia surveyed 1.3 million Americans and declared Louisiana the happiest state. Furthermore, Louisiana was said to be home to America's five happiest cities: Lafayette, Houma, Shreveport-Bossier City, Baton Rouge and Alexandria.

But an analysis this year by WalletHub decided that Louisiana was the third least-happy state, followed by Arkansas and West Virginia. (The five happiest were Hawaii, Utah, Minnesota, New Jersey and Maryland.)

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