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U.S. 14th Happiest Country, Norway #1 in 5th World Happiness Report

Monday, March 20, 2017 18:00
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The United States is the 14th happiest country in the world and Canada is the seventh happiest country in the world, according to the 2017 World Happiness Report edited by CIFAR Co-Director John F. Helliwell.

Although the top ten countries remain the same as last year, there has been some shuffling of places in the report released today. Norway moved up from fourth place to overtake Denmark at the top of the ranking. It was followed by Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and Finland. Canada dropped from sixth to seventh place, beneath the Netherlands.

This is the fifth annual World Happiness Report. It was edited by Helliwell of CIFAR (Canadian Institute for Advanced Research) and the University of British Columbia; Richard Layard, Director of the Well-Being Programme at the London School of Economics; and Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Ranking of Happiness 2014-2016
Credit: World Happiness Report

Canada was also highlighted for its success in multiculturalism and integration. It is sometimes suggested that the degree of ethnic diversity is the single most powerful explanation of high or low social trust, however Canada bucks this trend. While U.S. communities with higher ethnic diversity had lower measures of social trust this finding did not hold true in Canada. Canadian programs that promote multiculturalism and inter-ethnic understanding helped build social trust and decrease economic and social segregation, the authors note.

“Canada has demonstrated a considerable success with multiculturalism; the United States has not tried very hard,” writes Sachs. The next report for 2018 will focus on the issue of migration.

The World Happiness Report looks at trends in the data recording how highly people evaluate their lives on a scale running from 0 to 10. The rankings, which are based on surveys in 155 countries covering the three years 2014-2016, reveal an average score of 5.3 (out of 10). Six key variables explain three-quarters of the variation in annual national average scores over time and among countries: real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity.

The top ten countries rank highly on all six of these factors:

1. Norway (7.537)
2. Denmark (7.522)
3. Iceland (7.504)
4. Switzerland (7.494)
5. Finland (7.469)
6. Netherlands (7.377)
7. Canada (7.316)
8. New Zealand (7.314)
9. Australia (7.284)
10. Sweden (7.284)

Full report: http://worldhappiness.report/

According to the report The central paradox of the modern American economy, as identified by Richard Easterlin (1964, 2016), is this: income per person has increased roughly three times since 1960, but measured happiness has not risen. The situation has gotten worse in recent years: per capita GDP is still rising, but happiness is now actually falling.

The predominant political discourse in the United States is aimed at raising economic growth, with the goal of restoring the American Dream and the happiness that is supposed to accompany it. But the data show conclusively that this is the wrong approach. The United States can and should raise happiness by addressing America’s multi-faceted social crisis— rising inequality, corruption, isolation, and distrust—rather than focusing exclusively or even mainly on economic growth, especially since the concrete proposals along these lines would exacerbate rather than ameliorate the deepening social crisis.
Figure 7.1 shows the U.S. score on the Cantril ladder over the last ten years. If we compare the two-year average for 2015/6 with the two-year average for 2006/7, we can see that the Cantril score declined by 0.51. While the US ranked third among the 23 OECD countries surveyed in 2007, it had fallen to 19th of the 34 OECD countries surveyed in 2016
This America social crisis is widely noted, but it has not translated into public policy. Almost all of the policy discourse in Washington DC centers on naïve attempts to raise the economic growth rate, as if a higher growth rate would somehow heal the deepening divisions and angst in American society. This kind of growth-only agenda is doubly wrong-headed. First, most of the pseudo-elixirs for growth—especially the Republican Party’s beloved nostrum of endless tax cuts and voodoo economics—will only exacerbate America’s social inequalities and feed the distrust that is already tearing society apart. Second, a forthright attack on the real sources of social crisis would have a much larger and more rapid beneficial effect on U.S. happiness.
According to the report, “To escape this social quagmire, America’s happiness agenda should center on rebuilding social capital. This will require a keen focus on the five main factors that have contributed to falling social trust and confidence in government. The first priority should be campaign finance reform, especially to undo the terrible damage caused by the Citizens United decision. The second should be a set of policies aiming at reducing income and wealth inequality. This would include an expanded social safety net, wealth taxes, and greater public financing of 184 health and education. The third should be to improve the social relations between the native-born and immigrant populations. Canada has demonstrated a considerable success with multiculturalism; the United States has not tried very hard. The fourth is to acknowledge and move past the fear created by 9/11 and its memory.

The US remains traumatized to this day; Trump’s ban on travel to the United States from certain Muslim-majority countries is a continuing manifestation of the exaggerated and irrational fears that grip the nation. The fifth priority, I believe, should be on improved educational quality, access, and attainment. America has lost the edge in educating its citizens for the 21st century; that fact alone ensures a social crisis that will continue to threaten well-being until the commitment to quality education for all is once again a central tenet of American society.”

Contacts and sources:

Juanita Bawagan

Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

http://www.ineffableisland.com/



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