Saturday, March 03, 2007

Happiness and Life Expectancy

Interesting graph of happiness and life expectancy over at WorldChanging. Click on the image for a larger version.

Most interesting to me are the nations that are outliers of the curve - nations that appear to be unusually happy or unusually unhappy as based on their life expectancy. Nations in the upper right corner of the graph are ones we’d expect to be happy, as their citizens have long lives (Denmark, Switzerland). In the lower left of the graph, we’ve got nations we’d expect to be unhappy because life is short (Zimbabwe, Burundi).

The other corners are the interesting ones. The upper left corner are nations that are unhappy despite long lifespans. You’ll note some common characteristics to these nations: they’re members of the former Soviet Union. (They’re also very cold, but other chilly nations like Canada, Iceland, and Scandinavia are quite happy…) Despite a long lifespan, Armenia is one of the unhappiest nations on earth (something I can confirm from my visits to the country.)

It’s harder to characterize the lower right corner, where nations are happier than we would expect. Bhutan lives in this corner, which we might expect from the country that invented gross national happiness. And nations that are both very happy and unusually happy include a number of tropical paradises, suggesting that if you, personally, would like to be happy, moving to the Bahamas might not be a bad start.
Namibia is a happier country than Japan with a life expectancy almost 40 years shorter.

via WorldChanging


crush41 said...


I'm skeptical of Adrian White's Happiness Index, the source for the graphic you used.

White is a committed environmentalist, and his previous work bares that out.

The happiness scores also correlate at a strong .62 with another index entitled the 'Happy Planet'index, in which the abstract reads "By your powers combined, I am..." (kidding).

Who would have thought Bhutan (ranked 8th happiest country on earth), with the 12th highest infant mortality rate in the world, suffering less than a 50% literacy rate, and poorer than much of Africa, would be more joyful than Canada, Norway, or the US?

Of course green tendencies are not something I'm ridiculing. One of the reasons I like your site is its underlying theme of letting readers know how they can be less profligate and more responsible stewards of the earth. But I think this Happiness rating is politically riven.

Fat Knowledge said...


I hadn't realized that this was based on Adrian White's Happiness Index, thanks for the info.

I remember commenting on your post when it first came out.

I agree with you that we should be skeptical of all happiness indexes right now, as it is early in their evolution and likely to have many flaws. It is also inherently difficult to measure happiness.

I don't know enough about Adrian White or how he collected the data to comment on potential political biases.

But, I think that the info is still interesting as long as you take it with a grain of salt.

As for it correlating strongly with the happy planet index (I missed your joke, as I have never actually watched Captain Planet before), I am not overly surprised by that as it is measured as happiness*life expectancy/environmental footprint.

I bet that their happiness statistics and those of Adrian White are fairly similar, so that the reason the two values aren't correlated even more strongly is differences in life expectancy (which you can see in this post) and environmental footprint.

As for Bhutan being ranked so high, they have a Gross National Happiness as a government object, so I am not completely surprised by that.

I also am with you in that I think happiness, economic output and environmentalism are different things and if you are looking at happiness then the other 2 should be irrelevant to the measurement.


Carl Jung:

There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year's course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word 'happy' would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.Yours is a nice blog.

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