Happiness in Europe and the world: lessons to learn

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Global attention to “happiness” has already a decade’s history: analytics assemble data on peoples’ lives in most of the countries around the world. Some trends are somehow quite remarkable recently: i.e. importance of income and GDP has been decreasing in the pools, while happiness was more often associated with the general aspects of wellbeing in national growth models. 

New World Happiness Report-2022 (WHP-22) marks a 10th anniversary of global approaches to one of the basic elements of peoples’ lives; typically, around 1,000 responses are gathered annually for each country in preparing the report. Europeans, mostly in Nordic states, must be satisfied with the data: they are ranked as the happiest countries in the world; however, South American countries score higher on “affect-based surveys” of current positive life experiencing. The World Happiness Report is a publication of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, powered by the Gallup World Poll data; to prepare the WHP-22, the organizers contacted over nine million people to make a sustainable assessment.

The WHP-22 uses global survey data to report on how people evaluate their own lives in more than 150 countries around the world. Although the “happiness reports” are based on a wide variety of data, the most important source has always been the Gallup World Poll, unique in its range and comparability of global annual surveys. Life evaluations from the Gallup World Poll provide the basis for the annual happiness rankings that have always sparked widespread interest. Readers may be drawn in by wanting to know how their nation is faring but soon become curious about the secrets of life in the happiest countries.
The World Happiness Reports are written by a group of independent experts acting in their personal capacities; hence any views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization, agency or the United Nations programs.
More in: https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2022/foreword/

Changing approaches to happiness…
In a popular approach, “happiness” reflects personal mental and emotional conditions, including all positive and pleasant factors from contentment to intense joy. It is also used in the context of life satisfaction, subjective wellbeing and “flourishing” period on existence. However, happiness is not the result of bouncing from one joy to the next; researchers find that achieving happiness typically involves considerable efforts to “reach a comfortable life”.
See more in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happiness.
“Happiness” has several and varied meaning for different countries; in the WHPs it is used as an informal context showing trends towards “subjective well-being”, “life satisfaction”, “positive psychology” and “quality of life”, etc.
For example “quality of life” is used to capture a sense of wellbeing related to overall cognitive and affective human experience; though the notion is not actually popular in some states, though it is quite important in political economy.
The same is true to “wellbeing”, “progress” and “sustainability”: thus, the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2021 classified governments’ well-being initiatives by whether they use well-being metrics for monitoring, for prioritizing or for policy-making.
Hence, a new feature in WHPs appeared associated with a so-called “beyond-GDP approach”; it underlined that a “wellbeing economy” approaches (actually being explored in political economy’s analysis since 2001) shall be related to other important happiness’ facets besides, “joy and satisfaction”. Thus, a state is considered exploring “wellbeing economy” only if it actively sticks to wellbeing measures in government’s priorities.
However, this leaves wide open the definition of wellbeing and the adoption of “wellbeing priorities” in state governance towards a welfare society. Nethertheless, using happiness as a headline indicator of wellbeing would help to communicate to citizens the government’s concept of “caring about people”, as well as inform a priority-setting decision in national political economy.
Interestingly, for example, that in New Zealand, Canada and the UK the word “happiness” is not used in decision-making: this, among other things, mirrors the need for more precise terms denoting specific subjective well-being connotations. Such specificity would however contrast heavily with the broad and typically poorly defined meaning of the term “wellbeing” and “quality of life” in the national governance. On this point, the UK position is specific: in the financial accounts it simply says that “well-being is about how people feel” (!), and mentions that “personal wellbeing is measured through subjective reports of satisfaction, purpose, happiness and anxiety”. Thus, openly embracing “subjective wellbeing” as a formal and core objective in national governance has been a major part in the UK decision-making and landmark evolutionary approach since 2021.
For example in the UK’s “Policy Profession Standards,” which gives official guidance for recruitment, performance assessment and training of 14,000 policy staff updated in November 2021, “wellbeing” is included as an example of a cross-cutting policy objective. Another prominent example comes from the Geneva “Charter for Wellbeing”, a product of the World Health Organization’s 10th Global Conference on Health Promotion in December 2021 (with the participation of over 5000 representatives from 149 countries).

Wellbeing in governance’s narrative
During last decade, the WHPs have been a vital source of socio-economic orientation in modern development paradigm. Globally, the happiness concept is based on two key ideas: that happiness or “life evaluation” can be measured through opinion surveys, and that key determinants of well-being can be identified; in this way, the WHP-22 can explain the patterns of life evaluation across countries in the world. This information, in turn, can help countries to craft policies aimed at achieving happier societies and national wellbeing.
Recent trends in national progress and well-being concepts are showing the ways governments are reorienting their policy-making and governance’s systems towards happiness. They depict crucial challenges facing national efforts in measuring progress in wellbeing and devising new ways in using the “science of happiness” for decision-making in such issues as handling distributions and inequality, simplifying multiple dimensions to a “single wellbeing index”, and exploring sustainability in the wellbeing indicators. Present global analysis in government efforts towards wellbeing is not showing much progress in combining happiness in national socio- economic policies.
Too much emphasis on GDP in national accounts can lead to misleading information on peoples’ wellbeing and run the risk of leading to wrong policy decisions; the optimal approach is to go beyond GDP in a quest for better socio-economic measures in living standards. In any national perspective planning, the rising role of happiness shall serve as meaningful element and framing governance’s efforts in measuring well-being. Then, following these wellbeing components in a governance policy-making and national planning state can achieve substantial progress.
More in: https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2022/trends-in-conceptions-of-progress-and-well-being/

Prospects of “happiness” in political economy
It seems in the future the prospects for happiness will depend on a number of factors, including the post-pandemic evolution, the scale of global and regional conflicts.etc; however, important contribution will come from improvements in the science of happiness. The present WHR-22 mentioned several main promising directions in states’ ability to measure and explain happiness.
Thus, e.g. new concepts to measure the happiness content in books and/or social media shall be mentioned; the process shall include different “reference methods” in happiness and dramatic changes over last ten years in less important factors of income and GDP.
Another major area of progress concerns the relationship between biology and happiness: e.g. in many “biomarkers” of happiness the genes people inherited provide important clues as to different approaches to happiness around the world.
Still another area of advance is the range of emotions covered in happiness research: for example, happiness research in the “western world” tended to ignore important positive emotions involved in other parts of the world, such as freedom, peace, and harmony; recent research shows how significant these emotions contribute to overall life satisfaction.
As the science of happiness develops, the WHRs promised to continue searching for deeper insights into the “secrets of human happiness” with the help of new data and research tools. Thus, e.g. since 2020, for the first time, the Gallup World Poll summarized approaches to happiness through such issues as “balanced life”, “feeling at peace with life”, as well as “preferring calm life rather than an exciting one”, and “focusing on caring for other people”.
See: https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2022/overview-on-our-tenth-anniversary/

Present situation in wellbeing
“Subjective wellbeing” used in the WHR-22 continues to rely on three main wellbeing indicators: life evaluations, positive and negative emotions. According to such approach, the situation in the world looks the following way: for the fifth year in a row, Finland continues to occupy the top rank, with a score significantly ahead of other countries in the top ten. Denmark continues to occupy second place, with Iceland up from fourth place last year to a third this time. Hence, Switzerland gets the fourth rank, followed by the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The top ten are rounded out by Sweden, Norway, Israel and New Zealand.
The following five countries are Austria, Australia, Ireland, Germany, and Canada: for the latter it marks a substantial fall; Canada used to be among the first five. The rest of the “top 20” include the United States at 16th rank (up from 19th last year), the United Kingdom, and Czechia being at the 17th 18th, correspondingly, followed by Belgium at 19th and France at 20th, its highest ranking yet.
For states in the Baltic Sea region (besides already mentioned Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway among the first eight best), the rank’s positioning is the following: Germany -14, Lithuania -34, Estonia -36, Latvia – 42, Poland – 49 and Russia -80.
Source: https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2022/happiness-benevolence-and-trust-during-covid-19-and-beyond/#ranking-of-happiness-2019-2021


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