Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Counting your blessings, for 26 years

When I worked at Walt Disney World, which is widely known as “The Happiest Place on Earth,” I was surprised at how often people’s expressions and body language conveyed a more despondent emotion.  I remember more than once walking past a family where the kids were crying and the parents arguing with one another.  Inevitably they would be in the process of taking a picture.  I distinctly recall a mother screaming at her daughter telling her to, “Look at the camera and smile! You are going to be happy whether you like it or not!”

I’m not sure how many of you reading this have seen the UN’s 2013 World Happiness Report.  The report is sponsored by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.  In theory the report is intended to give politicians insight into the well-being of its citizens when making policy decisions.  According to the report happiness was defined as both an emotion and one’s outlook regarding his or her life as a whole. Six variables in total are utilized to formulate the ranking: GDP per capita, years of healthy life expectancy, perceptions of corruption, social support, generosity and the freedom to make life choices.
In case you were curious I found it interesting that 9 out of the top 10 happiest countries were in cold climates.  Perhaps that’s because people there have to spend a lot of time indoors with others so they either grown to enjoy their companions over time or they lower their expectations.  Some may be surprised to hear the US was ranked 17th, behind Israel (11) and Mexico (16)!

Out of 156 countries included in the ranking, Botswana was #145.  Swaziland (100), Zimbabwe (103), Iraq (105), Iran (115), Congo (117) and even Afghanistan (143) are allegedly happier than we are here.  Given this list I have to be a little skeptical.  At least we can rest easy knowing we are 3 spots ahead of Syria (148).
While GDP and social support is high, and corruption is very low, life expectancy in Botswana is probably what warranted the low ranking.  In 1990 the life expectancy in Botswana was 65, but has fallen to only 53, primarily due to the HIV/AIDs rate.  In the US the life expectancy is 79 years.  A 26 year difference is a long time!

Just as a matter of full disclosure, I did not read the full 156 pages in the report.  But I skimmed the abstract and looked at most of the tables.  But for everyone out there, better get smiling.  After if someone from the UN approaches you and asks you to take a survey about your happiness take some advice from Duck Dynasty, “HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY!”

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