Opinion Editorial

Report shows money not root of happiness




At first blush, the World Happiness Report, released on Monday, would appear to be a frivolous document, but it's quite important. Its content is not so much about the ranking of nations as how and why they are ranked, and what exactly makes their citizens happy.

In a nutshell, the document is a report card on how well a society and government functions for the benefit of its citizens.

And it's not all about money or the gross domestic product, although that's part of the happiness equation.

Indeed, when the first World Happiness Report was issued in 2012 by the United Nations, it was in conjunction with a UN high-level meeting titled Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.

The report looks at several happiness indicators, chief among them a nation's per capita GDP, but also a nation's social programs, its citizens' life expectancy, their freedom to make life choices, their generosity and their perception of corruption.

For the record, Canada has always been ranked in the top 10, and is now ranked seventh out of 155 nations, as compared to its sixth-place showing in 2016.

Yet the happiest people on the planet, according to the report, are the Norwegians, followed by the Danes, Icelanders, Swiss, Finns and the Dutch.

Following closely on Canada's happy heels are the citizens of New Zealand, Australia and Sweden.

The Americans? They're ranked 14th, behind Israel, Costa Rica and Austria.

There are some other surprises. Germany is ranked 16, the United Kingdom 19, France 31 and Italy 48. Japan? No. 51.

The report raises some curiosity. It's understood that Scandinavian nations would do well because of their wealth and excellent social programs, but the fact Costa Ricans are apparently happier than much wealthier Americans is surprising.

Also surprising is that an economic powerhouse like Japan would do so poorly in the happiness department. Happier than the Japanese but considerably poorer on a per capita basis are Mexicans (25) and Guatemalans (29).

It's not always about the money, although that helps. The report illustrates an important truth -- that while shared wealth is an important facet of a strong and vibrant nation, social programs delivered through open and transparent agencies of government are also important.

And not to be missed is another happiness indicator, and perhaps the most important -- a citizen's freedom to make choices.