Study debunks myth that some nations are happier than others

March 7, 2018 by Will Wright, Australian National University
Credit: Australian National University

A new study from The Australian National University (ANU) has challenged the notion that some nations' citizens are happier than others, finding that inequalities within nations have a greater influence on people's happiness.

The study's author Dr. Richard Burns said the findings questioned the usefulness and validity of comparisons of happiness between nations.

"All things considered, happiness does not actually vary very much between nations," said Dr. Burns, from the ANU Research School of Population Health.

"Many of the reported happier nations, such as Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands often report rates of suicide and psychiatric distress that are in the top 15-25 percent of the world's nations."

Dr. Burns said the findings suggested that people's happiness could be improved if governments addressed inequalities in their own countries, by improving the ratio between living wage and cost-of-living.

"The results showed that if government policy helped improve the capacity of people to live comfortably on their income, it could lead to an improvement in people's happiness," he said.

Using a multi-national study of 23 European countries with 11 different wellbeing indicators, Dr. Burns examined how much happiness differed between nations.

Wellbeing indicators included vitality, self-esteem, purpose, trust and belonging, and life satisfaction.

Dr. Burns also investigated whether differences in happiness were more strongly attributed to factors between nations, or whether it was the differences between people within countries that influenced their happiness.

Differences between nations analysed included , rate of unemployment, and level of trust in the judiciary and political systems.

"Whether citizens in different nations are living with a sense of purpose, vitality and engagement, or of belonging to a community—strong indicators of people's happiness—is really unrelated to the in which they live," Dr. Burns said.

He said of the 11 different wellbeing indicators measured, only one differed substantially between nations: life satisfaction.

"About 22 percent of respondents' life satisfaction varied between nations, but this is not surprising," Dr. Burns said.

He said was often used as a measure of quality of life in economic, social and public health research, but it did not provide a full picture of people's .

The research is published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

Explore further: Are you happier now than in years past?

More information: Richard A. Burns. The Utility of Between-Nation Subjective Wellbeing Comparisons Amongst Nations Within the European Social Survey, Journal of Happiness Studies (2018). DOI: 10.1007/s10902-018-9964-4

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11 comments

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JongDan
not rated yet Mar 07, 2018
First of all, the study definitely should be expanded to include countries outside Europe.
mackita
not rated yet Mar 07, 2018
Dr. Burns said the findings suggested that people's happiness could be improved if governments addressed inequalities in their own countries, by improving the ratio between living wage and cost-of-living.
Such a recommendation logically contradicts the article title - or not? If all nations are equally happy no matter which inequality they're living in, then the addressing of inequality in this way or another would have no measurable effect. Some nations have significantly higher rate of suicides, for example - so we can be pretty sure, some distribution of happiness exist, despite that what some dull liberal researchers ("governments must... - governments must not...") may have or haven't not to say about it.
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (1) Mar 07, 2018
The rightwingnuts always ignore internal inequality because they are deluded and think they'll get rich. Thus they don't feel the need to care.
Thorium Boy
2 / 5 (5) Mar 08, 2018
The socialist experiment in Europe hasn't yielded greater happiness because as each day goes by, more freedom is taken from the people.
Kron
5 / 5 (4) Mar 08, 2018
Why is this junk being published? If there are no differences in the levels of happiness between different European countries, then that is a statistical point. Going off on a tangent discussion at what the contributing factors are that pertain to people's happiness (such as financial, or climate, or governmental oppression, or disease, or whatever the heck other contributor that affects a persons happy mood) derails the entire premise.

Is it statistically true or not that reported happiness levels differ between European countries?

You can propose a better tester that yields better data, such as mandatory testing for all citizens which would abolish errors in sampling. Or another method that yields results to levels of happiness in a more fair manner than random or voluntary sampling.

Point being, if this is to be considered science, then data trumps. If testing is wrong, run better diagnostics and publish results. Not this garbage.
SwamiOnTheMountain
not rated yet Mar 08, 2018
Well if ignorance is bliss, then the happiest country is the most ignorant one.
Just a theory.
MR166
1 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2018
"Dr. Burns said the findings suggested that people's happiness could be improved if governments addressed inequalities in their own countries, by improving the ratio between living wage and cost-of-living.

"The results showed that if government policy helped improve the capacity of people to live comfortably on their income, it could lead to an improvement in people's happiness," he said."

In real terms Price Controls. If the incomes remain the same then the prices must come down to fulfill the dear professors dreams. Or they could just give everyone a raise.

The promises of the socialist utopia will NEVER be fulfilled. The laws of economics are just as invariant as the laws of physics.
MR166
3 / 5 (2) Mar 09, 2018
What a useless paper. The sad part is that highly educated people are not using their talents on more productive research. Give the people more money and they will be happier, who would have thunk!!!!
mackita
1 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2018
If you give people more money, they will just raise their expectations levels.
MR166
1 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2018
The professors next logical step is to add or increase a carbon tax so the the government will have the funds needed. It is like trying to bail a boat with a sieve.
mackita
1 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2018
Funds for what? The research of actual solutions of energetic crisis (like the cold fusion, overunity) will be ignored anyway.

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