I DON’T know about you but much of the world today seems to be angry, unhappy and fearful. Insults and offensive language are common currency. Lies and “alternative facts” abound. No one says “sorry” anymore. To do so, would be to confess to being a “softie” in a world which is only impressed by tough men and mean women.
So it’s reassuring to learn that contrary to my grim view of the world, there are entire countries which can be described as “happy”. According to the World Happiness Report 2017, Nordic countries are the happiest while Africans and some Asians are mostly miserable.
The answer for the divide is simple: all of the top 10 countries have high values in all six of the key variables used to explain happiness differences among countries and through time — income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust, with the latter measured by the absence of corruption in business and government.
I re-read the report just before going on vacation. Its holiday time and most of Europe — including this correspondent — will be taking a well-deserved vacation, coming back refreshed and reinvigorated and ready to tackle the world, once again.
That’s the theory. That’s what we talk about in Brussels these days: the burn out, the exhaustion, the “I can’t stand this world anymore” laments from friends and foes.
So the plan is to forget about US President Donald Trump and his crazy tweets, his creepy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his weird plastic-coated children for a few weeks.
To stop obsessing over Brexit and the fate of a now-small country once known as “Great” Britain.
And to take our minds off the wars in the Middle East, the danger emanating from North Korea and the corruption scandals in most corners of the world.
As I said: that’s the theory. The problem is that it just isn’t going to happen. In this world of constant news, non-stop social media and instant messaging, very few people are going to be able to really turn off.
And this means that come September, we will all probably be as tired and nervous as we are today. We will probably not be very happy.
The World Happiness Report says it doesn’t have to be so bad. Yes, we can be happy. But only if the right policies are in place.
The report’s key message is that trust and equality are the key to building happy societies and nurturing people who are joyful in their skins.
“Happy countries are the ones that have a healthy balance of prosperity, as conventionally measured, and social capital, meaning a high degree of trust in a society, low inequality and confidence in government,” according to Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Sustainable Developments Solution Network which publishes the report and a special adviser to the United Nations Secretary General.
The aim of the report, he added, is to provide another tool for governments, business and civil society to help their countries find a better way to well-being.
The big headlines are about the fact that Norway has displaced Denmark as the world’s happiest country. But that should not be such a cause for concern because Nordic nations overall are the most content in the world.
Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden are identified as the top 10 countries.
South Sudan, Liberia, Guinea, Togo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Central African Republic are at the bottom.
Germany was ranked 16, followed by the United Kingdom (19) and France (31). The US dropped one spot to 14 because of anxiety caused by the erratic policies of Trump. Nations such as China (79), Pakistan (80), Nepal (99), Bangladesh (110), Iraq (117) and Sri Lanka (120) fared better than India, which was ranked on the 122nd spot. Interestingly, the report also points out that people in China are no happier than 25 years ago when the country was much poorer.
The rankings are based on six factors — per capita gross domestic product, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, social support and absence of corruption in government or business.
All of the top four countries rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.
The report is meant to encourage governments to put in place policies which make people happy. Some countries have already appointed a “Minister for Happiness” to make sure this happens.
Imagine a world where instead of engaging in war and conflict, nations competed with each other on which one had the happiest citizens.
And on this upbeat note, it’s au revoir and so long for a few weeks.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels
Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2017