How happy are we?

Steve BucksteinQuickPoint!

Economists measure all kinds of things, such as income, assets, inflation and unemployment. Hard data gives us an objective view of our economic world.

Now, some social scientists are trying to go beyond hard data to measure more subjective factors, such as what makes us happy.

Americans might be particularly interested in this research, since our government was formed explicitly to protect our unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The World Database of Happiness was created in 1999 and now ranks some 95 countries on a happiness scale of zero to ten. Topping the current rankings is Denmark with an 8.2 rank, followed by Switzerland, Austria, Iceland and Finland. At the bottom is Tanzania at 3.2, behind Zimbabwe, Moldova, Ukraine and Armenia.

The United States ranks at 7.4, placing us about number 15.

Researchers find that in addition to obvious factors such as income, assets and health, having choices in life is a very important component of happiness.

The biggest surprise is that people are no happier in welfare states than in purer free market economies. Icelanders, for example, are just as happy as Swedes, even though Sweden spends twice per capita on social welfare programs as Iceland does.

Come to think of it, this is a hopeful finding. The next time a politician wants to impose another social program, just tell them that it won’t make us any happier, so knock it off.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon-based think tank.

© 2007, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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