The Happiest Title on Earth

Ok, enough is enough.

I kept this post as a draft for more then a month. First it was World’s Happiest Countries ranking by the Forbes, now The Wordl’s best Countries list according to Newsweek. The magazine has ranked living conditions in 100 countries around the world, where Finland was judged to be the best. (list goes as: Switzerlans, Sweden, Australia, Luxembourg, Norway, Canada, Netherlands, Japan, Denmark, USA, Germany, New Zealand, UK…) The analysis examined factors such as education and health care, quality of life, economic dynamism, and political environment.

And you know what? There is no GEORGIA among the 100 countries of the world (!!!). Even Burkina Faso, Zambia, Kenya, Botswana, Honduras manage better then Georgia. Not that I have ilusions about my country, but trust me I have enough education and information to compare objectively Botswana and kenya with Georgia taking into account education and health care, quality of life, economic dynamism, and political environment.

And this is only the first reason why I am against such “Happy” ranking projects.

Can anyone really measure HAPPINESS?! One can buy a very expensive mattress and pillows,  but can he buy his peaceful Sleep?! There is no way to measure happiness objectively. This is my second point. Thousands of people were given the questionnaire across 155 countries so maybe 100 people from each country. How does this give an objective indication on something as complicated as happiness?!

According to the poll of “Happy ones”, Turkmenistan, which came in 18th place on the list, is the happiest Central Asian nation. Surprisingly, it ranked above wealthier Western countries like Italy, Germany, and France. Apparently happiness isn’t related to civil liberties.  Moreover, something that could be enough for happiness in Turkmenistan is expected to be only the part of the happiness preconditions for Italians and even Georgians, for instance. The more educated, literate people are, more they strive for, ambitions are higher. You can’t compare!

As Rana Foroohar says, the golden rule of economics has always been that well-being is a simple function of income. That’s why nations and people alike strive for higher incomes—money gives us choice and a measure of freedom. “But a growing body of studies show that wealth alone isn’t necessarily what makes us happy. After a certain income cap, we simply don’t get any happier. And it isn’t what we have, but whether we have more than our neighbor, that really matters. So the news last week that in 2006 top hedge-fund managers took home $240 million, minimum, probably didn’t make them any happier, it just made the rest of us less so. Now policymakers are racing to figure out what makes people happy, and just how they should deliver it.” (Rana Foroohar: the Joy of Economics)

It’s unwise to confuse materialism with self-fulfillment, says Forbes anonimous reader. What do the “happiest” countries have in common? Another reader responds: “They haven’t been ruined by uncontrolled immigration. There is no clash of cultures. And unlike in the the US; the happy countries don’t have organized racist groups always complaining and competing for attention and extra benefits.”

If we return to leader happy countries, can we sum up that money matters? because…

… being poor does not necessarily make people feel sad. Nita says, In fact often it can provide people with a strong sense of purpose to try and achieve their goals. The struggle may mean that they are not happy, but they do have something to look forward to, a belief in themselves, or perhaps a sense of fatalism which makes them accept their fate.

The idea that happiness is important to a society is not new. Thomas Jefferson put the pursuit of happiness on the same level as life and liberty in the United States. Jeremy Bentham believed that public policy should attempt to maximize happiness, and he even attempted to estimate a “hedonic calculus”. Many other prominent economists and philosophers throughout history, including Aristotle, incorporated happiness into their work.

It’s been only recently that I found out about Happiness economics. This is the study of a country’s quality of life by combining economists’ and psychologists’ techniques. Although its usefulness is yet to be determined, it has become a subject of interest. Happy Life Years, a concept brought by Dutch sociologist Ruut Veenhoven, combines self-reported happiness with life expectancy. The Happy Planet Index combines it with life expectancy and ecological footprint. Gross national happiness is a concept introduced by the King of Bhutan as an alternative to GDP but there is as yet no exact definition.

“It’s not that I’m against happiness. Indeed, generally I’m a cheerful person. What really irritates me about the chattering classes’ discovery of the ‘happiness’ or well-being literature is how patronising it is, and how one-sided the interpretation of the empirical evidence.”  (The Enlighted Economist)

Why is this all happening now? interesting question isn’t it? Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert humorously sums up much of the new wisdom in his book “Stumbling on Happiness.” He says 24-hour television and the Internet have allowed us all to see more seemingly happy people than ever before. “We’re surrounded by the lifestyles of the rich and famous,” says Gilbert, “rubbing our noses in the fact that others have more.”

Ectually there are a lot of variables in measuring happiness, says Paul Dolan, an Imperial College economist working with the Department of Trade and Industry on happiness metrics. As in any survey, the phrasing of questions and the nationality of respondents influence the results. For instance, there are myriad different kinds of happiness— short-term pleasure, meaning derived from work, a deeper sense of purpose in life, perhaps coming from religion or spirituality. “Which one is being tested? Which one should be? And can anyone really craft effective public policy around any of it?”

“Governments . . . must respect the natural course of things. Let people be happy, that is, let everyone be free to seek his own happiness, without hurting other people’s . . .” Benjamin Constant, Principles of Politics (1815)

One of the early revelations of happiness research, from Richard Easterlin at the University of Southern California, was that while the rich are typically happier than the poor, the happiness boost from extra cash isn’t that great once one rises above the poverty line. The reason, says Easterlin, is the “hedonic cycle”: we get used to being richer darn quick, and take it for granted or compare it to what others have, not what we used to have.

Some have suggested that establishing happiness as a metric is only meant to serve political goals. Recently there has been concern that happiness research could be used to advance authoritarian aims. As a result, some participants at a happiness conference in Rome have suggested that happiness research should not be used as a matter of public policy but rather used to inform individuals. (The Joy Of Economics)

In addition, survey findings can lead to subjective interpretations. For example, a happiness study conducted in Russia during the 1990s indicated that as unemployment grew, the well-being of both those employed and unemployed rose. The interpretation of this could be that it resulted from diminished expectations and respondents who were less critical of their own situation when many around them were unemployed, or it could be interpreted as being the result of everyone benefitting from the unpaid work that the unemployed were able to do for their families and communities with their increased time resource.

Northern states are traditionally on top of such ranks. Why cold, dark, small, and depressive nations top the rankings? asks the newsweek after conducting this survey.

Intuitively, one would think that people who are warm most of the year would be better off than people who are not. Yet Finland is in the No. 1 spot, and tropical Burkina Faso dead last at 100. The link between freezing and a high ranking becomes more explicable when the following dots are connected: a heated classroom is better than being outside chopping trees, hence education is important; moving briskly is good preventive medicine, thus health is robust; quality of life improves immensely when one must get as close to one’s beloved as possible to fend off the chill; the political environment is likewise better when governance is kept simple and equitable because it’s too cold to fight in the streets;

and finally, Codrescu says, economic dynamism is bound to be high among peoples who have learned to combat frostbite with a maximum of movement and the least expense of calories.

The world’s “best countries” seem to have this in common: they avoid war, they live in the dark, and they maintain a steady state of depressive and productive activity. No wonder, then, that we in the United States rank a pathetic No. 11. We are the only country in the world that has written “the pursuit of happiness” into its founding document, thus guaranteeing that we’ll never be satisfied. We are a geographically and socially diverse nation doomed by law and custom to optimism. We are not too healthy, are quite belligerent, and we borrow too much without thinking much about how we’ll pay it back. To achieve better metrics we’d need to tolerate a lot more (smorgas) boredom.

ahahah, Newsweek is so American and this comment is adorable 🙂

Am I happy or not, you ask? hard to say, cause at the moment am going though tough period in my life… but still, I guess I am, well at least I am on a right path to happiness. I Hope so 🙂

And yet again, Georgia not listed among Worl’s Best Countries?! I mean, of course its a matter of principle, nothing else, who cares otherwise about these rankings ?! 🙂


3 thoughts on “The Happiest Title on Earth

  1. მათ იციან რომ საქართველოში ყველაზე ბედნიერი ხალხი ცხოვრობს. უბრალოდ ფინეთმა ჩააწყო…

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