This Fourth of July, celebrate a happier world
July 3, 2008 —
To Peanuts' Linus, happiness is a warm blanket. To The Beatles, happiness is a warm gun.
It seems no matter what your idea of happiness, a new scientific study says the world is becoming a happier place.
The study is part of an ongoing research project at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research’s 2005-2007 World Values Survey. The cheeriest country is Denmark. The gloomiest: Zimbabwe—possibly due to political unrest there.
The U.S. ranks 16th on the list, just after New Zealand. Countries with a much-improved happiness include India, Ireland, Mexico, Puerto Rico and South Korea.
According to the research, published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, people are happier in democratic countries. So, this Fourth of July, when you’re singing the lines, “Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave,” you can also thank democracy, and its spread, for helping to raise happiness levels around the world.
Not all the news was shiny-happyness, however. The United States, along with Switzerland and Norway, have stayed at about the same level of happiness since about 1980.
Read below for more interesting notes on the world survey on happiness, courtesy of the Internet Appendix to Inglehart, Foa, and Welzel, “Social Change, Freedom, and Rising Happiness,” from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:
Happiness trends in 24 countries, 1946-2006
Our graphs show the trends in happiness levels found in 24 countries, using comparable data from all available surveys for countries from 1946 to 2007. These data are from Ruut Veenhoven’s World Database of Happiness, which include the data from the first four waves of the Values Surveys. These data were downloaded from http://worlddatabaseofhappiness.eur.nl/ and updated to include the results from the 2005-2007 World Values Survey.
These graphs provide a detailed picture of happiness trends in countries from which we have a relatively long and detailed time series, based on results from 4-point scales and the 3-point scales, which Veenhoven has converted into 4-point scales. The scale has been reversed so that high scores indicate high levels of happiness.
In many cases, the results contradict the assumption that, despite economic growth and other changes, the publics of given societies have not gotten any happier. By far the most extensive and detailed time series comes from the U.S., and the full series covering the 60 years from 1946 to 2006 shows a flat trend. But the subset from 1946 to 1980 shows a downward trend, while the series from 1980 to 2006 shows a rising trend. A similar picture appears from the much scantier British dataset (the second fullest time series). The entire series from 1946 to 2006 shows a downward trend, but the series from 1980 to the present shows a clear upward trend.
Many other countries show clear trends toward rising happiness. Indeed, among the countries for which we have long-term data, 19 of the 26 countries show rising happiness levels. In several of these countries— India, Ireland, Mexico, Puerto Rico and South Korea—there are steeply rising trends.
The other countries with rising trends are Argentina, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, Spain and Sweden.
Three countries (the U.S., Switzerland and Norway) show flat trends from the earliest to latest available survey. Only four countries (Austria, Belgium, the U.K. and West Germany) show downward trends. Almost five times as many countries show rising trends as downward trends. Thus, even if we choose to read the U.S. data as flat rather than curvilinear, it cannot be taken as a universal model: happiness actually rose in most countries for which long-term data are available.
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