Friday, January 09, 2015

Which Countries Are Happiest in The Science of Happiness?, by Juliana Breines

Which Countries Are Happiest in The Science of Happiness?, by Juliana Breines:

--by Juliana Breines, syndicated from Greater Good, Jan 09, 2015



See how the happiness levels of students in our online course vary depending on where they live.

To what extent is happiness related to where you live? Which
countries have the most—and least—happy residents? Are residents of
wealthier countries happier?

These are some of the questions we considered when analyzing data from the survey we presented
to the 112,000 students who registered for our online course, “The
Science of Happiness.” So far, more than 40,000 students, hailing from
over 200 countries and areas of sovereignty around the world, have taken
the survey. Previously, we reported on how students’ happiness levels
relate to factors like age and gender, and how some of those same
factors relate to students’ levels of social connection.

This time around we’re examining how happiness relates to students’ geographic location.
To do so, we looked only at data from the 58 countries with at least 25
students who completed the survey. The countries with the largest
representation are the United States (home to roughly half of the
students who completed the survey), then Canada, Australia, the United
Kingdom, and India.

It is important to keep in mind that we can’t make generalizations
about a country as a whole based on a small sample of its residents,
especially since the people enrolled in our happiness course are not a
representative sample of the entire country’s population. Nonetheless,
we can at least gain some insights about the students taking this course.

So which countries are the happiest?

Topping the list is Costa Rica, a small country in Central
America known for its natural beauty and progressive environmental and
social policies. This finding is not surprising—Costa Rica often ranks high
in cross-national measures of happiness. It is not a particularly
wealthy country in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but as
instructors Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas discuss toward the
beginning of “The Science of Happiness,” GDP may not be the best
indicator of national well-being. The per capita GDP of the United
States is about four times higher than that of Costa Rica, but the
United States ranks only 16th for subjective happiness, based on our
data.

After Costa Rica, next on the list are Croatia, Chile, Malaysia, and Colombia, countries that, like Costa Rica, are not particularly high in GDP. Although our data can’t tell us exactly why residents of these countries are the happiest, we can speculate that factors other than income may be at play.
One clue is that these five countries are also among the lowest 10 in
loneliness (meaning that their residents are less lonely than most other
students in the course), and among the top 10 in social connection,
suggesting that strong social ties may trump income when it comes to
happiness.

Surprisingly, Scandinavian countries, which tend to rank highest on subjective happiness in other studies, are not among the highest in subjective happiness in our sample. However, Finland does rank 15th in subjective happiness, and Denmark ranks 19th. Denmark also ranks second for lowest loneliness and 10th for lowest stress, and Sweden
ranks 8th in perceived stress and 9th in life satisfaction. The
discrepancy between our findings and prior research could be related to
the fact that students enrolled in “The Science of Happiness” are not a
representative sample, but rather a group of individuals who have a
particular interest in the study of happiness.

Geographical differences in happiness may be due in part to cultural
differences. Collectivist cultures—those that emphasize group cohesion
and shared goals—may rank higher in social connectedness and lower in
loneliness due to these cultural values. Individualistic cultures, by
contrast, may rank higher on happiness measures that tap into personal
accomplishments and self-esteem. The United States, for example, ranked
6th in flourishing, a measure that includes several items focused on
individual accomplishments (e.g., “I am competent and capable in the
activities that are important to me.”).

Below is a map indicating the happiness levels by country. The color
and shading of each country reflects the average score of its residents
on the “Subjective Happiness” scale administered to students in “The
Science of Happiness.” The scale runs from one (least happy) to seven
(most happy). If you click on a country, a box will pop up indicating
the number of students who completed the survey and their average
happiness score.

While only countries with more than 25 students who completed the
survey appear on the final rankings below, countries with any surveyed
students appear on the map. If no residents of a country (e.g., North
Korea) completed the survey, that country is not labeled on the map. You
can use the + and - buttons to zoom in and out on the map, and use the
search box to find a specific country.

You can also view this map in full screen mode and share it with others.

Here are the lists of the countries that scored toward the top of
several measures of well-being included on our survey at the start of
“The Science of Happiness.” These lists only include countries with at
least 25 students who completed the survey.

Subjective Happiness

The Subjective Happiness Scale
was used to assess global, subjective beliefs about whether one is a
happy or unhappy person, independent of specific bases of happiness or
unhappiness, such as positive and negative life events or circumstances.
Sample item: “In general I consider myself a very happy person.” Top 25
countries:

1. Costa Rica

2. Croatia

3. Chile

4. Malaysia

5. Colombia

6. Switzerland

7. Thailand

8. Czech Republic

9. Philippines

10. Bulgaria

11. Mexico

12. Peru

13. Canada

14. New Zealand

15. Finland

16. United States

17. Spain

18. Australia

19. Denmark

20. United Arab Emirates

21. Romania

22. South Africa

23. India

24. Ukraine

25. Venezuela

On the flip side, students from these 10 countries scored the lowest on the happiness scale: Iran, Serbia, Egypt, Pakistan, Russia, Scotland, Saudi Arabia, Latvia, England, and Poland.

Life Satisfaction

The Satisfaction with Life Scale
was used to assess people’s appraisals of the overall conditions of
their lives. Sample item: “In most ways my life is close to my ideal.”
Top 10 countries:

1. Costa Rica

2. Chile

3. Thailand

4. Colombia

5. Switzerland

6. Ecuador

7. Czech Republic

8. Austria

9. Sweden

10. Malaysia

Students from these 10 countries scored the lowest on the life satisfaction scale: Serbia, Iran, Egypt, Russia, Turkey, Poland, Pakistan, England, Italy, and Ukraine.

Flourishing

The Flourishing Scale
was used to assess well-being across a range of domains, including
self-esteem, meaning and purpose, relationship functioning, and
optimism. Sample item: “I live a purposeful and meaningful life.” Top 10
countries:

1. Costa Rica

2. Chile

3. Thailand

4. Colombia

5. Switzerland

6. United States

7. Philippines

8. Mexico

9. Croatia

10. Canada

Students from these 10 countries scored the lowest on the flourishing scale: Russia, Iran, Poland, Egypt, Japan, Indonesia, Turkey, Italy, Lithuania, and Ukraine.

Social Connection

We assessed social connection by asking people to rate how closely
they see themselves in relation to the people they encounter in daily
life, as represented by a series of circles that overlap to various
degrees. Higher scores on this measure, the Inclusion of Other in the Self Scale, are indicated by greater overlap between the “self” and “other” circles. Top 10 countries:

1. Bulgaria

2. Pakistan

3. Croatia

4. Thailand

5. Philippines

6. Costa Rica

7. Chile

8. India

9. Malaysia

10. Spain

Students from these 10 countries scored the lowest on social connection: Lithuania, Ecuador, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, Norway, Russia, Slovenia, and Hungary.

Loneliness

The UCLA Loneliness Scale
was used to assess people’s subjective feelings of loneliness and
social isolation. Sample item: “I feel in tune with the people around
me.” The 10 countries listed below scored lowest on this scale.

1. Croatia

2. Denmark

3. Hungary

4. Thailand

5. Colombia

6. Chile

7. Costa Rica

8. New Zealand

9. Germany

10. Slovenia

Students from these 10 countries scored the highest on the loneliness scale (meaning they’re themost
lonely): Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Eqypt, United Arab Emirates,
Vietnam, Russia, Ecuador, Indonesia, and Malaysia. (Interestingly,
Malaysia is the one exception to the point I made above, that social
connection is inversely related to loneliness—it is the one country that
scored in the top 10 in both social connection and loneliness.)

Perceived Stress

The Perceived Stress Scale
was used to assess the degree to which people find their lives to be
unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overwhelming. Example item: “In the
last month, how often have you felt that you were unable to control the
important things in your life?” The 10 countries listed below scored lowest on this scale.

1. Thailand

2. Costa Rica

3. Malaysia

4. Switzerland

5. Croatia

6. Chile

7. New Zealand

8. Sweden

9. Colombia

10. Denmark

Students from these 10 countries scored the highest on perceived stress: Egypt, Iran, Vietnam, Indonesia, Pakistan, Serbia, Turkey, Argentina, Russia, and Singapore.



Don’t see your country on these lists? This may be because fewer than 25
students from it took the pre-course survey, making it difficult for us
to generalize about students from that country. For example, South Korea actually scored higher than Costa Rica in subjective happiness but just missed the cut-off for our analysis, with 23 students represented. Many other countries (e.g., the nation ofDominica)
had only one or two students represented, but some of these individuals
reported the highest levels of happiness possible on the scale.

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