by Danielle Wood
Money can’t buy happiness…but it doesn’t hurt. The surveys are in. The results are calibrated. And the “happiest place on earth” isn’t Disneyland. It’s Denmark.
Yes, the newest incarnation of The World Values Survey (WVS) has hit the newsstands, and the results say that Americans aren’t doing all that badly. While we didn’t hit the top position in terms of world happiness, we didn’t scrape the bottom either—the U.S. came in well below 15 other countries in terms of happiness levels, but we ranked ahead of more than 80 others. The World Values survey, the joint effort of a global network of social scientists, concludes that while we live in what’s “by no means the happiest country in the world, from a global perspective, the U.S. looks pretty good,” says Ronald Inglehart, a political scientist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, who lead analysis of the study.
Kind of crazy when you stop to think about it for a minute. Consider: 81% of Americans say they believe the country is on the “wrong track,” according to a recent Pew Research Study. We’ve got increasing unemployment, the war in Iraq, and a lurking recession. Us, happy? Hmm.
Still, at the bottom of the list are Moldova, Zimbabwe, and Armenia, three of the world’s poorest countries and all of which have long histories of authoritarian rule. So no, money can’t buy happiness. But poverty has a pretty big effect on where nations fall on the Richter scale of glee.
Who exactly trumped us in terms of widespread joyfulness? Denmark, Puerto Rico, and Colombia topped the list. Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland, and our neighbors to the north, Canada, also wiped the floor with us in terms of all things happy. And some of those places don’t even see sunshine for most of the year…
Still, before you start contemplating a run for the border, know this: while researchers used to think that happiness levels were stable and even genetically determined, the WVS data (which covers almost 100 countries and 90% of the world’s population) shows that people and societies can change. Today’s glummest nations can become tomorrow’s shining examples of happiness unleashed, argues Inglehart—with a few tweaks in social and economic policy.
Take the U.S. We’re doing pretty well in terms of some of the factors that contribute to happiness, but throw in universal health care and a dash more social solidarity? We’d likely shoot on up the happy list, according to Inglehart. Just something to think about as we head on into that November election… Until then, remember: that glass you’re looking at? Half full.
Danielle Wood is the Director of Editorial for Education.com. You can reach her at email@example.com