What makes you happy? Family, friends, a strong community? How about “economic growth”? It’s not typically a buzzword to trigger your feelings, but a recent report suggests a nation’s economic growth is a variable in one’s personal happiness.
Of course, happiness isn’t entirely dependent on economic growth, a national measurement for determining overall well-being, but it sure seems like it could contribute to one’s personal outlook.
Yet, the authors of a global happiness report seem to suggest that happiness and economic growth have been decoupled. The just-released World Happiness Report 2017, an annual survey of 1,000 people in 150 nations, places the United States just 14th on the happiness scale. But the real eyebrow raiser is that the top five happiest countries are facing slower economic growth.
Business journalist (and Former Jeopardy champ) James Pethokoukis says that the authors’ conclusions may not be what they seem.
One of its highly touted findings is that the world’s ‘happiest’ nations — such as Norway, Denmark, and Switzerland — have been growing more slowly than the world as whole, including the number 14-ranked U.S., in recent years. The report’s authors fully embrace the goal of pushing ‘happiness’ as the best measure of social progress rather than the ‘tyranny of GDP.’ And as economist Jeffrey Sachs writes in the report: ‘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.’
But is that what the data show, really?
The whole thing seems a little weird when you take a closer look.
Pethokoukis points out that the “happiest” countries are small — an average of 11 million people in the first 13 happiest nations (all the ones in front of the U.S.). The “happy places” are also culturally homogeneous, particularly the Nordic nations that rank at the top. Not surprisingly, the happiest nations also want faster-rising incomes, a component of economic growth.
Pethokoukis adds that the happiest nations also suffer from their fair share of unhappiness, with high suicide rates (and possibly low expectations)! Americans, on the other hand, “are demanding, complain when dissatisfied, and by the way, also produce the hard-driving entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who push the technological frontier so Europe doesn’t have to.”
He suggests national identity and culture most certainly has to be a variable in the happiness outlook, but more than that happiness isn’t the result of higher incomes, but more opportunity to create “a life of deeper human flourishing.”