The Pursuit of Happiness

Thom Hartmann just couldn’t resist drawing some obvious conclusions the first World Happiness Report released earlier this week showing that the world’s happiest countries are all in northern Europe with Denmark, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands taking the top four spots. Canada came in a respectable fifth and the United States a distant eleventh place.

According to the report: “Happier countries tend to be richer countries. But more important for happiness than income are social factors like the strength of social support, the absence of corruption and the degree of personal freedom.

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 (by 0.14 times the standard deviation of happiness around the world).”

I wonder if someone will remind Stephen Harper of his now infamous quote from 14 years ago when he was vice president of the National Citizens Coalition speaking to a Montreal meeting of the right-wing U.S. Council for National Policy where he lamented the fact that “Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it.”

Indeed we are – and maybe it seems, that’s not such a bad thing after all.

8 Replies to “The Pursuit of Happiness”

  1. “The floggings will continue until morale improves.”

    Harperite happiness is being spared government intrusion by way of consensus forms, because, hey, whether or not you do X or Y as an expression of happiness, whether or not you have attained that ever elusive thing called happiness is nobody’s business.

    Now get back to work.

  2. Heh. I love the contradictory nature of the “conservative” notion of “freedom” that regards filling out a stupid census form every 4 years as an intolerable encroachment of government on one’s personal liberty, but then maniacally goes about restricting and criminalizing the use of relatively harmless drugs.

    Would it be too much to ask for a little consistency here?

  3. Franz Fanon for the beautiful people. Gosh, when I think of all those millions of dollars and hours wasted by so many simple folk on therapy trying to tackle insignificant issues like personal unpopularity, chronic depression, low self esteem and crappy sex lives. If only they had realized social support and unionization is the key to national bliss.

    Red, I’ll try and behave myself, but please reassure me that, despite all the cool graphs and statistical tables, you have at least a few misgivings about any study that has the audacity to proclaim that “On average, the world has become a little happier in the last 30 years (by 0.14 times the standard deviation of happiness around the world)”.

  4. Peter: Fear not. I happen to share your healthy skepticism when it comes to such things as attempting to objectively measure something as subjective as “happiness” (especially when it results in absurd statements such as the one proclaiming an incremental increase in global “happiness” by 0.14 times the standard deviation, etc.).

    Personally, I think the entire exercise is somewhat ludicrous on its face. Whenever these studies emerge I can’t help but be reminded of the UK’s former Deputy PM John Prescott blathering on to some news reporter about the Labour government’s “quality of life barometer” measuring 13 different sectors including the rate of change of wild bird populations (artfully determined by Prescott as the amount of bird-song one hears in the morning).

    That said, I don’t think the exercise is entirely without merit. Maybe this kind of metric is a worthwhile counterbalance to simply measuring such things as GDP and productivity. Is “productivity” any less fuzzy and subjective than “happiness”? Did you personally feel the 2-per-cent multi-factor productivity growth rate reported in Canada over the past year?

  5. I did indeed. 1% would have given me a psychological boost, but 2% sent my self-esteem into the stratosphere. Even I wife says I’m a different, more manly, man. 🙂

    OK, I’m much relieved by your straight thinking. But leaving aside scientific nebulousness, have you noticed how these UN or bien pensant “studies” always end up with the same countries winning and ranking? Whether it’s about wealth or growth or social services or rule of law or peace or competitveness or incorruptibility or, now, even happiness, it’s always the Nordics, the Anglospherics and a few northern European hangers-on like Holland and city states like Singapore, with the States behind the exhalted pack but ahead of everyone else. Plus, although guys like Hartman try to make a big deal out of first versus eleventh rankings, the differences are usually statistically minuscule. Frankly, I think the palpable desire of the Euros and Ivy League Americans who conduct these studies to one-up the Yanks causes them to bury the overall politically incorrect conclusion, which is that the West is best by miles.

  6. Peter: Perhaps so, but wasn’t Bhutan (or maybe it was Nepal) the “happiest country in the world” several years ago? If not mistaken, I think they may even have been the progenitors of this “happiness index” concept in the first place.

    Concerning the Nordic countries and “hangers on” as you contemptuously refer to our Dutch friends generally scoring best-in-class on all sorts of “quality of life” indices, I’m amused that you seem to think some sort of nefarious conspiracy must be afoot to skew the results in their favour – presumably for ideological reasons. Of course, it’s simply inconceivable that America isn’t number one. Never mind the facts of the matter; simply shout it down with chants of “USA! USA! USA! USA!” Isn’t that what the gormless rubes south of the border do whenever they encounter something that challenges their dogmatic belief in America’s exceptional superiority?

    Regarding your accusation that the “Euros and Ivy League Americans” conducting such studies want nothing more than to “one-up the Yanks” that’s a pathetic “elitist” trope worthy of Fox News. In truth, I didn’t give any thought whatsoever to who was conducting the study and then attempt to ascribe ulterior motivations to their results based on their geographic origin or academic backgrounds. Maybe I’ll apply that same standard the next time a report comes out of the Heritage Foundation or the Hoover Institute.

    As for the aforementioned anti-American elitist snobs supposedly burying what you claim to be the “overall politically incorrect conclusion, which is that the West is best by miles” — where on earth did you derive that impression from? I realize that it dovetails nicely with your other baseless assertions and hackneyed right-wing narrative, but there’s no evidence whatsoever to support this silly notion. It’s plain as day from the findings that the “Western” model of governance and economics results in greater “happiness” – at least according to the metrics of the report in question.

  7. Don’t tell this to the twats at the post, im sure they’ll attribute some sort of bullshit about Norway being some sort of backwater because they lack the deregulatory “freedoms” that allow big multinationals to dump pcp’s into our water, or regulate those lazy workers to forty hours a week.

  8. @ Peter

    Last time I checked Singapore would be Milton Friedmans wet dream, far from a socialist haven.

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