I guess I’ve always sort of unconsciously tied wealth to happiness, if nothing else than because it gives you more options. If you have money in the bank it means you have the ability to think beyond living from month to month; it allows you to plan for the future and gives you a bit of breathing room.
This is still something I 100% standby. This article isn’t going to be about me urging you to give up everything you own and go to live in the Himalayas with Matthieu Ricard, allegedly the World’s Happiest Man. We don’t all look stunning in orange.
However, I wanted to look into the statistics of happiness a little more closely. According to Global Finance, the richest country in the world is Qatar. No surprises there. However, in the 2017 World Happiness Report, Qatar only comes in at a disappointing 35 on the list of the world’s happiest countries.
Norway comes out on top as the happiest country in the world. It’s closely followed by Denmark, then Iceland and Switzerland. The Nordic countries really seem to have this happiness thing cracked.
Why is this?
All of these top listed countries rank highly on the main factors “found to support happiness”. Mainly:
- Good governance
These seven things are found to impact both social and personal happiness in all countries. Clearly this indicates that there are a multitude of complex factors that contribute to happiness other than just wealth.
What all these countries have in common is a high level of social trust. This is measured as a “perceived absence of corruption in government or business”. In short, the people believe that their government actually have their best interests at heart, instead of carving up their social services and selling them off to their mates; or using their position in parliament as an opportunity to make some personal gain. In Norway this can be seen in the way that the government has chosen to produce it’s oil slowly, and instead of spending the profits straight away, has invested them for the future. In so doing, “Norway has insulated itself from the boom and bust cycle of many other resource-rich economies”. It has avoided the rampant Neo-liberalist idealism that the USA and UK have embraced so entirely, and which is now causing such social and economic hardship.
Not only is the trust in governance essential for happiness, but so is a strong sense of a caring community. Norway rates highly in the area of social support, which is measured as “having someone you can count on in times of trouble”. Having strong personal and familial bonds also increase an individual’s sense of happiness. This ties closesly with another key happiness indicator, namely social freedom. If citizens feel they are “free to make their own decisions”, ie. the liberty to live and act as they wish without negative social repercussions, then they will function as a happier society.
These are all "units of measurement", if you will, that I feel are mentioned less in relation to obtaining a perfect, happy life, than economic success. The figure of the industrious individual, working hard and forging their own personal success, is almost always refered to as the most credible path to happiness, as opposed to the model of a socially responsible society that engages and protects its citizens against difficulties and hardships.
Talking about "working hard" being a valuable skill, another fact that really struck me whilst reading the report is that work is also seen as important for happiness, as “unemployment causes a major fall in happiness, and even for those in work the quality of work can cause major variations in happiness.”. Although this may come as unsurprising in some ways, why I found it interesting was that work was categorised separately from affluence/income. It indicates that work in itself, and the quality and meaningfulness of that work, is what is important to happiness and personal fulfilment, rather than solely the financial gain achieved from it.
There is no getting away form the fact that Norway is an affluent country. It ranks at no. 8 on the Global Finance scale. With this wealth it is undeniably easier for a government to create a more economically and socially stable society for its citizens. It’s also worth noting that in the last year the Norwegian population grew by only 50,000 people. Having a stable population eases pressures on key resources like health care, schools, and the job market. All these variables need to be taken into account when assessing how successful a country is at making its citizens “happy”. All in all though, Norway seems to be doing a pretty good job balancing all the key elements of happiness within its population.
So, like I said, this article is not about urging you to dismantle your life and go and live in sandals. Making savings and working towards personal and financial goals provides you with stability and choice. However, what I’ve taken away from this is that our obsession with linking happiness exclusively to wealth is not accurate or healthy. There are a number of factors to being happy that exist out side of financial gain.
Just make sure that whilst you are saving money and working hard towards your goals, that you are also taking care of yourself and making yourself happy.