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Denmark named happiest nation; Japan frowns at 53rd

AFP-JIJI

Denmark and Switzerland are the No. 1 and No. 2 happiest nations, while crisis-torn Syria and Burundi are the most miserable, according to a global ranking released Wednesday.

The 2016 World Happiness Report seeks to quantify happiness as a means of making societies healthier and more efficient. The United Nations published the first such study in 2012.

Japan came a glum No. 53 on the list.

As with last year, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden round out the top 10, making small or medium-size countries in Western Europe seven of the top 10 happiest countries.

Burundi was the most miserable, followed by war-ravaged Syria, Togo, Afghanistan and six other countries in sub-Saharan Africa — Benin, Rwanda, Guinea, Liberia, Tanzania and Madagascar — as the least happy of 157 countries.

The report compared data from 2005 to 2015 showing that Greece, which suffered enormously from the global recession and now faces a crippling migrant crisis, had the highest drop in happiness. Japan fared poorly, too: It was 107th worst for a decline in happiness.

The report did not discuss the reasons for Japan’s low sentiment, but it cited studies of the tsunami of 2011 as showing the social context is important for happiness-supporting resilience under crisis.

“There is now research showing that levels of trust and social capital in the Fukushima region of Japan were sufficient that the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 actually led to increased trust and happiness in the region.

“The happiness effects of crisis response may also be mediated through generosity triggered by a large natural disaster, with the additional generosity adding to happiness,” the report said.

The United States, where sharp polarization has been exposed in the 2016 presidential election campaign, out-ranked several Western European countries to be 13th most happy nation, up two spots from last year.

Germany was 16th, Britain 23rd and France 32nd. A string of Middle Eastern kingdoms — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain — out-ranked Japan, and Italy at No. 50.

China, the world’s most populous country, was ranked 83rd, and India, the world’s largest democracy, came in at 118.

The authors said six factors — GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity and absence of corruption — explain almost three-quarters of the variation across different countries.

The report compared levels of happiness in 2005-2007, before the onset of the global recession, with 2013-2015, the most recent three-year period for which data from a Gallup World Poll are available.

Of the 126 countries for which comparable data were available, 55 had significant increases in happiness and 45 had significant decreases, the report found.

Among the top 20 gainers were Thailand and China, eight countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States and Eastern Europe, seven in Latin America, two in sub-Saharan Africa and Macedonia in the Balkans.

The 20 largest losers of happiness included Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East; Japan and India in Asia; and Cyprus, Spain, Italy and Greece in Europe — all hard hit by the economic crisis.

Ukraine, where the east has been roiled by a pro-Russian insurgency since 2014, has also fallen into the group of 10 largest happiness declines.

Iceland and Ireland offer the best examples of maintaining happiness in the face of economic crisis due to high degrees of social support, the report found.

  • Richard Rabinowitz

    So America “stronk”, eh? :-)

  • kayumochi

    It would much more useful with diverse nations like the USA to see happiness statistics broken down into various demographics, much like longevity. It isn’t really helpful, for example, to see that the Japanese live the longest when a particular demographic in the USA is shown to live just as long when separated from the whole.

    • tisho

      Same goes for Japan actually. The Japanese who live the longest are disproportionally from Okinawa, it is the Okinawan people that give that image that Japanese live long. It is not about the demographics, it is about their diet. The Okinawan diet is significantly different than the mainland diet. If they categorize the people who live the longest based on diet, you would see that it doesn’t matter where you live, all people who live the longest from all around the world will have the exact same diet. As for happiness, this is completely meaningless and misleading ranking, how do you define happiness, do they mean satisfaction in life, then that obviously depends on your goals, the personal traits and goals needs to be taken into account, a lot of other things needs to be taken into account.

      • kayumochi

        If you put the Okinawans into a prison camp with the same diet they wouldn’t have the same life-span. Happiness isn’t a meaningless ranking. If you took away the Okinawans’ happiness their longevity would shrink.

      • tisho

        That’s completely false. Even if you put them in prison, that is not going to affect their health, as long as they keep eating the same diet. Happiness is a moment of joy, it has nothing to do with your biological health. Don’t talk about subjects you don’t know.

      • 151E

        Of course diet and exercise are by far the strongest determinants of health that we have individual control over, but chronically elevated cortisol levels certainly have a deleterious effect on health outcomes. So I don’t know how you can categorically state that emotional states have nothing to do with biological health.

      • tisho

        That’s not what i said, of course things like severe stress or other serious mental issues can have an effect on your longevity, but anything other than that, such as feeling unhappy or unsatisfied will have no effect on how long you live. As long as you have the right diet, you can live the most miserable and unhappy life locked in a prison cell, and still live up to 110 years.

      • kayumochi

        Happiness has nothing to do with health? There is plenty of evidence that suggests otherwise.

      • kayumochi

        If you put the Okinawans into a prison camp with the same diet they wouldn’t have the same life-span. Happiness isn’t a meaningless ranking. If you took away the Okinawans’ happiness their longevity would shrink.

  • kiljoy616

    Been to a few of the countries above their population are small so sure less people does lead to happier life. Who would have guessed.

    • Micke

      Yeah, about that… Canada has a population of 4-10 times higher than the lower ranked countries on the top-10 list. Not to mention that Mexico is coming in on rank 14, with 122 million citizens.

      Also there’s a lot of countries with lower or similar population to Sweden and Switzerland. For example, Hungary (ranked 102), Greece (ranked 105), Guinea (150) and Benin (155). And a lot of small and big countries are spread all over the rankings.

      So yeah, might be a small factor, but just saying “Fewer population is better” does not make any sense really.

      Personally, I would say personal freedom / privacy, good infrastructure, and a working social security network is what connects the highest ranking countries at a glance.

      • carlos cienfuegos

        its because mexicans dont are very happy in reality they are very conformist they dont have money, they think that drinking and watching fottball is hapiness

      • carlos cienfuegos

        its because mexicans dont are very happy in reality they are very conformist they dont have money, they think that drinking and watching fottball is hapiness

  • Tim Johnston

    Smile

  • Kessek

    “The United States, where sharp polarization has been exposed in the 2016 presidential election campaign, out-ranked several Western European countries to be 13th most happy nation, up two spots from last year.”

    This is how I know the poll is complete bullplop.

  • Kessek

    “The United States, where sharp polarization has been exposed in the 2016 presidential election campaign, out-ranked several Western European countries to be 13th most happy nation, up two spots from last year.”

    This is how I know the poll is complete bullplop.

  • Blair

    must have polled the ex-pat readership of JT

  • AonghasCrowe

    Why so glum, Land of the Rising Sun?

  • AonghasCrowe

    I find it odd that in spite of Japan’s dismal ranking, the Japan Times still had to search ISTOCK for a photo of a miserable looking Japanese woman and ended up settling on a photo of a crestfallen woman who appears to be Chinese (or possibly Thai).

    The thing is, the Japanese aren’t all that bummed out on life. They’re just reserved and humble. An American will tell you he is “Fantastic!” and yet he’s two months late on his mortgage payments, his kids are addicted to Adderall . . . His Japanese counterpart who’s got a stable job with a major firm, kids who study reasonably hard and have never really been in trouble, will say he’s “So so.”