To ponder the question of happiness and happy countries, one can start with the World Happiness Index.
A quick perusal identifies several Scandinavian countries at the top (with Finland leading) and others also with high per capita GDP. Yet that alone is not sufficient for one also encounters anomalies. For example, India’s is higher than for Pakistan, but the latter is listed 66 in the index while India is almost hugging the bottom at 144. Moreover, the other major country in the subcontinent, Bangladesh, for all its turbulent history is still at 107 way ahead of India.
Other anomalies are South Korea and Japan at 62 and 63, far down the list from the other rich countries. Perhaps the cause here is a work ethic and social norms that informally require long hours at work coupled with expected socializing thereafter with colleagues.
Then there is the issue of inequality. One can indeed try to assess the impact of economic inequality through its measure, the Gini Coefficient expressed from 0 to 1. Sometimes it is written in percent terms as a number from 0 to 100 and it is then referred to as the Gini Index.
It matters little to the black South African that he earns more than other sub-Saharan Africans; what matters to him is his income in relation to others in South African society. It was an underlying cause of the riots last year in addition to the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma. The World Bank has named South Africa the most unequal country in the world.
Income inequality in the US has been on the rise since the 1970s when neo-liberalism in the Democratic party undermined the progressive taxes and regulations helping to bolster the middle class as well as safety nets for the poor. Who can forget how welfare was going to be replaced by ‘workfare’ and the stories, legion in the media, about families sitting at home getting ‘rich’ on welfare checks.
Yes, the rich got richer sheltering their money from taxes in the Cayman Islands or the Bahamas or the Isle of Man. Yet at the expense of the poor and the middle class with two-job families becoming the norm, and children in after-school programs because Mom wasn’t there to pick them up.
The World happiness Index summarizes what the neo-liberals achieved: the US is at the bottom of industrialized countries in North America and Europe. Of course an absence of a national health insurance program makes matters worse — it adds to worry, the antithesis of happiness.
An absence of worry, an absence of vast differences in income, social cohesion and a presence of a suitable safety net for when things go wrong. These appear to be the common denominators for happy countries.
And why not a Gross National Happiness (GNH) measure, as in Bhutan, in addition to the GDP. It is a philosophy that guides Bhutan.