14 December 2012

O Happiness

Some happiness surveys are
easy to do. (Image from
Welcome back. Last spring, the results of the World Happiness Report grabbed my attention. I knew that, even if you had been exposed to news capsules of the report, you would still appreciate or at least tolerate my commentary. But I resisted.

This was a 167 page report that pulled together independent surveys, countries, social scientists, money, years of data, statistics and critical analyses, and generated news releases and more-or-less scholarly criticism. Though grabbed, I had neither the time nor passion to plumb the depths of the report to do it justice. (You’re right. That never stopped me before.)

Then, quite recently, I received a University of California Berkeley Wellness Alert that highlighted a study by “experts on the science of happiness.” When I saw this confirmation that happiness is now a science, which I’d read but discounted in material surrounding the report, I could resist no longer.

Happiness Report

The World Happiness Report, commissioned by the United Nations, is loaded with information and tables. I still refuse to plumb the depths of the report because I’m used to technical reports with defined sections dedicated to methods and materials, results and the like. This isn’t one of those.

As far as I can tell, countries were ranked based on how well they scored in public opinion surveys of how happy everybody was--their subjective well being. If I have it right, the data were drawn from surveys conducted over several years, with different questions and survey methods, which isn’t to say they weren’t all statistically valid.

I’m afraid my reaction to the report will be interpreted as sour grapes because the U.S. didn’t even place in the top 10 happiest countries. (11th isn’t that bad.) Really, I don’t have a problem with Denmark being number one. I’ve known one Dane for over 40 years and he’s usually happy. Of course, he spends as much time away from Denmark, as he does in the country, but he might not realize it. Denmark isn’t very big. (Area-wise, it would fall between our 41st and 42nd smallest states.)

Along with not plumbing, I didn’t dig up other reports to learn how one characterizes a country where you can’t do a mail or phone survey or easily visit people in the hinterlands. I got to thinking they could probably get better results on the cheap by selecting a handful of representatives from each country, sort of like The Hunger Games without the carnage. You could take the president, king or ruler; add an opposition leader; maybe a randomly selected grandparent; some kid off the street or from the village…feel free to jump here.

Wrap Up

When I looked into the study cited by the Berkeley Wellness Alert, I found that the experts in the science of happiness were psychologists, publishing in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. I was hoping to see more recognition of a happiness field. Plumbing deeper, however, I was thrilled to find there are indeed journals dedicated to the new science: Journal of Happiness Studies and International Journal of Happiness and Development.

This could really take off and come together with the movement to use Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of Gross National Product (GNP) to guide public policy. The idea that “wealth” should reflect more than economic development began in the 1970s in the Country of Bhutan. The core of the group promoting GNH in the U.S. began formally in 2009 in Vermont.

GNH is a very interesting idea and I’ve always loved Vermont. Where else will you find a company that trademarks the phrase “Keep Vermont Weird™”? Thanks for stopping by.


World Happiness Report and news release:
Example reviews of World Happiness Report:
Journal of Consumer Psychology study:
Links to happiness journals:
GNH in the U.S.:

(Unpaid, unsolicited link to Keep Vermont Weird™):

1 comment:

  1. http://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/innovation/can-technology-make-you-happy