What You Think You Know about Happiness and Why You’re Wrong

Some number-crunching to accompany Bill McKibben’s <a href="http://motherjones.com/news/feature/2007/03/reversal_of_fortune.html" target="new">Reversal of Fortune</a> in the <a href="/toc/2007/03/index.html" target="new">March/April 2007 issue</a> of <i>Mother Jones</i>.

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You might think that richer countries are happier. But there’s actually no correlation beyond about $10,000 per capita income. See how each country compares on this scatter chart. One surprise is that Vietnam, with a per capita income of less than $5,000, has been just as happy as France, with a per capita income of about $22,000. The happiest country surveyed was Puerto Rico. The unhappiest were Indonesia, the Ukraine, and Zimbabwe. Within Europe, the happiest countries were Denmark, Ireland, and Iceland.

All that data comes from the World Values Survey. You can play around with the dataset online. (Great for a class project, kids.) And definitely check out the Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World and the other graphs that cluster cultural values by nation, all to be found by clicking the “Findings” tab. See how life satisfaction correlates with democracy and other ideologies. North America, for example, is more traditional than Northern Europe. Relatively speaking, the miserable former Soviet bloc focuses more on survival than on self-expression.

For those with a longer attention span, it’s worth reading Beyond Money, the most authoritative scholarly summary; 300 academic studies on happiness packed into 25 pages. To see how the “satisfaction index” has changed over your lifetime, check out the graph on page three. Though the GDP has tripled, the average person is no more contented with life now than the average person was in 1950.

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We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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