First World Happiness Report launched at United Nations
29 Mar 2012 | Action for Happiness
On 2 April 2012, the first ever United Nations
conference on happiness and wellbeing is taking place at the UN
Headquarters in New York
The event, entitled Wellbeing & Happiness: Defining A New Economic
Paradigm, will involve world leaders and global experts from a
wide range of fields. It builds on a UN General Assembly resolution agreed in July
2011 encouraging countries to promote the happiness of
To mark the conference, a new World Happiness Report is being released,
edited by John Helliwell, Jeffrey Sachs and Action for Happiness
co-founder Richard Layard.
The report reflects a new worldwide demand for more
attention to happiness and absence of misery as criteria for
government policy. It reviews the state of happiness in the
world today and shows how the new science of happiness explains
personal and national variations in happiness.
- The happiest countries in the world are all in Northern Europe
(Denmark, Norway, Finland, Netherlands). Their average life
evaluation score is 7.6 on a 0-to-10 scale.
- The least happy countries are all poor countries in
Sub-Saharan Africa (Togo, Benin, Central African Republic, Sierra
Leone) with average life evaluation scores of 3.4.
- It is not just wealth that makes people happy: political
freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption
are together more important than income in explaining well-being
differences between the top and bottom countries.
- At the individual level, good mental and physical health,
someone to count on, job security and stable families are
- Over time as living standards have risen, happiness has
increased in some countries, but not in others (like for
example, the United States). On average, the world has become a
little happier in the last 30 years
- Unemployment causes as much unhappiness as bereavement or
separation. At work, job security and good relationships do
more for job satisfaction than high pay and convenient hours.
- Mental health is the biggest single factor affecting happiness
in any country. Yet only a quarter of mentally ill people get
treatment for their condition in advanced countries and fewer in
- Stable family life and enduring marriages are important for the
happiness of parents and children.
- In advanced countries, women are happier than men, while the
position in poorer countries is mixed. Happiness is lowest in
Chapter 1: Introduction
We live in an age of stark contradictions. The world enjoys
technologies of unimaginable sophistication; yet has at least
one billion people without enough to eat each day. The world
economy is propelled to soaring new heights of productivity through
ongoing technological and organizational advance; yet is
relentlessly destroying the natural environment in the
process. Countries achieve great progress in economic
development as conventionally measured; yet along the way
succumb to new crises of obesity, smoking, diabetes,
depression, and other ills of modern life.
These contradictions would not come as a shock to the greatest
sages of humanity, including Aristotle and the Buddha. The
sages taught humanity, time and again, that material gain alone
will not fulfill our deepest needs. Material life must be
harnessed to meet these human needs, most importantly to promote
the end of suffering, social justice, and the attainment of
happiness. The challenge is real for all parts of the world.
As one key example, the world's economic superpower, the United
States, has achieved striking economic and technological
progress over the past half century without gains in the
self-reported happiness of the citizenry. Instead,
uncertainties and anxieties are high, social and economic
inequalities have widened considerably, social trust is in
decline, and confidence in government is at an all-time low.
Perhaps for these reasons, life satisfaction has remained
nearly constant during decades of rising Gross National Product
(GNP) per capita.
The realities of poverty, anxiety, environmental degradation,
and unhappiness in the midst of great plenty should not be
regarded as mere curiosities. They require our urgent attention,
and especially so at this juncture in human history. If we
continue mindlessly along the current economic trajectory, we
risk undermining the Earth's life support systems - food supplies,
clean water, and stable climate - necessary for human health
and even survival in some places. On the other hand, if we act
wisely, we can protect the Earth while raising quality of life
broadly around the world. We can do this by adopting
lifestyles and technologies that improve happiness (or life
satisfaction) while reducing human damage to the environment.
"Sustainable Development" is the term given to the combination
of human well-being, social inclusion, and environmental
sustainability. We can say that the quest for happiness is
intimately linked to the quest for sustainable development."
Continue reading in the World Happiness
Structure of the report
Be a Happiness Activist, Politics of Happiness
- Chapter 1 provides an introduction,
highlighting the significant problems faced in our current
societies and why there is a strong case for adopting
lifestyles and technologies that improve happiness while reducing
human damage to the environment.
- Chapter 2 discusses happiness measures
currently in use across countries, and asks whether or not these
measures can provide valid information about quality of life
that can be used to guide policy-making. It argues that
regular large-scale collection of happiness data will enable
analysis of the impacts of policies on well-being, improve
macroeconomic policy-making and can inform service
- Chapter 3 discusses the causes of happiness and
misery, based on 30 years of research on the
topic. Important external factors include income, work,
community and governance, and values and religion. More "personal"
factors include mental and physical health, family experience,
education, gender, and age. An analysis of all these
factors strikingly shows that while absolute income is important in
poor countries, in richer countries comparative income is
probably the most important. Many other variables have a more
powerful effect on happiness, including social trust, quality
of work, and freedom of choice and political
- Chapter 4 discusses some of the policy
implications of these findings. GNP is a valuable goal,
but should not be pursued to the point where economic
stability is jeopardized, community cohesion is destroyed,
the vulnerable are not supported, ethical standards are
sacrificed, or the world's climate is put at risk. While basic
living standards are essential for happiness, after the baseline
has been met happiness varies more with quality of human
relationships than income. Other policy goals should include high
employment and high-quality work; a strong community with high
levels of trust and respect; improved physical and mental health;
support of family life; and a decent education for all.
- Case studies. The report describes in detail
how happiness is measured in Bhutan and the United
Kingdom, and it lays out how the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development plans to promote standard methods
of data collection in different countries.