The new World Happiness report is out. And it’s enough to make you sad. If you live in the United States.
According to the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Ernesto Illy Foundation, the United States slipped in 2016 to rank just 19th among the developed countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That’s a huge tumble from No. 3 among 24 developed countries in the 2006 report.
The report is based on an annual survey of 1,000 people in more than 150 countries that simply asks them to rank, on a scale of zero to 10, whether they are living their best life. Researchers then use six measures to try to understand the results: gross domestic product per capita, life expectancy, support from relatives or friends, charitable giving, freedom to make life choices, and perceived levels of government and corporate corruption. Rankings use three years of surveys.
Among developed countries the top ranks were copped by Nordic countries. For 2014 to 2016 Norway pulled down the top spot followed by Denmark and Iceland.
The least happy countries among developed and undeveloped economies really don’t present any surprises: Syria, Tanzania, Burundi and the Central African Republic.
What’s most interesting to me about the report is that the easiest way for the United States to move up the ranking, says at least one editor of the report, isn’t increasing GDP.
For example, perceived corruption in the United States has risen since the 2006 survey. To offset that increase in perceived corruption, per capita GDP would have to climb to $62,000 from $53,000.
Same is true with such measures as perceived social support for people living in the United States. To make up for the drop in that category to bring it back to 2006 levels, per capita GDP would need to climb to $82,000.
And to get back to 2006 levels of happiness in the survey using just economic growth, per capita GDP would have to climb to $133,000.
Can you say, Ain’t gonna happen?
According to Jeffrey Sachs, economist and University Professor at Columbia University and an editor of the report, the easiest way for the United States to climb in these rankings would be to improve social trust by addressing such things as campaign finance reform, income inequality, social relations between immigrants and native-born Americans, and access to high-quality education.
Hmm. Maybe getting per capita GDP to $133,000 would be easier after all.