(HN, 4/3/12) - On Monday, representatives at the UN took a day off from discussing the crisis and conflict engulfing the globe to talk about something totally different: how to be happy.
Holding a high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly hosted by the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan - long ranked as the `Happiest Country on the Planet' - the world body looked at ways to put happiness on the global agenda at their gathering "Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm".
The first-ever World Happiness Report, is based on Gallup World Polls over a period of 2005-2011, with respondents aged 15 or in more than 150 countries asked to evaluate the quality of their lives on an 11-point ladder scale running from 0 to 10 - with the bottom rung of the ladder (0) being the worst possible life for them and 10 being the best possible.
The report generally shows that the world’s happiest countries are all in northern Europe -- Denmark, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands took the top four spots, in that order. Canada came in fifth, well ahead of the United States at eleventh place. The least happy countries at the bottom of the list were Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Benin and Togo.
In advanced countries, women are happier than men, while the position in poorer countries is mixed. Happiness is lowest in middle age.
Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel, initiated the idea of an alternate model to Gross NationalProduct as a measurement of national progress in the 1970's and the country has famously adopted the goal of gross national happiness over gross national product (GNP).
The 800,000-person kingdom - where the per capita income is an estimated $670 - has become the center of development economics these days as Western policymakers seeking knowledge on national happiness in the globalized world look to Bhutan for answers.
Indeed the debate is growing over how to best measure the progress of countries beyond monetary valuations; and the `Happiness Quotient' ranks high in terms of quality of life.
According to the report - co-authored by economists Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute, Richard Layard of the London School of Economics, and John Helliwell of the Economics Department of the University of British Columbia - on average, the world has become a little happier over the last 30 years; tho the rise in economic living standards has not always had a direct impact on happiness.
True - overall the happiest countries in the world are all in Northern Europe while the least happy countries are all in Sub-Saharan Africa; but it's not just wealth that makes people happy: political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are far more important than income in explaining well-being differences between the top and bottom countries, according to the report.
The survey reflects a new worldwide demand for more attention to happiness and more lack of misery as criteria for government and public policy making. It also reviews the state of happiness in the world today and shows how the new science of happiness explains personal and national status.
On a more personal level, the researchers argue that good mental and physical health, someone to count on, job security and stable families are all crucial to self-happiness.
He commented that he had received a final report recently of the Global Sustainability Panel, in preparation for the upcoming Rio+20 Earth Summit citing the 56 recommendations of the panel and the importance of establishing a `Sustainable Development Index', or a set of indicators to measure progress towards sustainable development, including happiness and well-being.
Ban ki-Moon noted that such thinking dates back to the earliest times, and can be found, for example, in the teachings of the Buddha and Aristotle. More recently, measuring success by wealth alone has been questioned in the groundbreaking Brundtland Report of 1987, the Human Development Index and the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, established by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.
"We need a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness," said the UN Secretary General.
He called upon government ministers, policymakers, business and civil society leaders, and young people - to work together to transform our economies, to place our societies on a more just and equitable footing, and to protect the resources and ecosystems on which our shared future depends.
Connecting the dots between these issues - between water, food and energy security, climate change, urbanization, poverty, inequality and the empowerment of the world’s women - lies at the heart of sustainable development and he said, "The outcome from Rio+20 should reflect this".
Countries in order of their `Happiness Factor' according to the report are in this order:
Denmark, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, US, Costa Rica, Austria, Israel, Belgium, Luxembourg, UAE, UK, Venezuela, Iceland, Panama, Spain, France, Mexico, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Puerto Rico, Italy, Kuwait, Germany, Qatar, Turkmenistan, Singapore, Belize, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Argentina, Jamaica, Colombia, Greece, Chile, Japan, Guyana, Taiwan, Malta, El Salvador, Slovenia, Uruguay, Malaysia, Thailand, Poland, Jordan, Slovakia, South Korea, Bolivia, Croatia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Bahrain, Belarus, Honduras, Mauritius, Vietnam, Ecuador, Hong Kong, Kosovo, Cuba, Paraguay, Algeria, Estonia, Portugal, Myanmar, Moldova, Russia, Peru, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Romania, Libya, Laos, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Montenegro, Tunisia, Albania, Nicaragua, South Africa, Ukraine, Lebanon, Dominican Republic, India, Djibouti, Hungary, Namibia, Iraq, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Nigeria, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, Bangladesh, Morocco, Latvia, Syria, Ghana, Zambia, Mozambique, Somaliland, China, Mauritania, Malawi, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Botswana, Serbia, Mongolia, Palestinian Territory, Nepal, Armenia, Yemen, Sudan, Senegal, Cameroon, Macedonia, Uganda, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Angola, Guinea, Niger, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Liberia, Congo (DRC), Zimbabwe, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Georgia, Bulgaria, Congo, Tanzania, Haiti, Comoros, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Benin, Togo.