A global happiness index? How on earth can you judge that...

Ireland has slipped on the global happiness index - Trevor Laffan reflects on our position 
A global happiness index? How on earth can you judge that...

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL: Finland tops the world happiness index, apparently, and Ireland has slipped a place to 13th recently

I HEARD in the news recently reference being made to a world happiness index, and Ireland’s position on it.

The newsreader told us that Ireland’s place on this index had fallen slightly since the previous year, down one place from 13th to 14th. I had no idea what they were on about.

Apparently, there are 146 countries listed on this index and the closer you are to the number one spot, the happier that nation is.

So, on the face of it, being ranked 14th seems pretty impressive, but on the other hand we were 13th last year so we’re not as happy now as we were 12 months ago, so that’s not good.

But what exactly are we supposed to do with this information? Should we lodge a complaint and demand we be returned to our rightful position, and if so, who do we complain to?

Somebody is deciding whether I’m happy or not, and ranking me on a list based on how happy or how miserable I am at a given time, and I want to know who they are!

Apparently, it started 12 years ago when the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution in July, 2011, inviting national governments to “give more importance to happiness and wellbeing in determining how to achieve and measure social and economic development”.

That’s a fine mouthful, but it basically means that governments were going to get guidelines on how to make its citizens happy. The citizens were then going to be polled to establish how happy they were, and the results of the polls would be reflected in a list and ranked in order of happiness, which became the World Happiness Index.

The results are announced every year in the World Happiness Report, which is a publication of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, powered by the Gallup World Poll data.

The report reflects a worldwide demand for more attention to happiness and wellbeing as criteria for government policy. It reviews the state of happiness in the world today and shows how the science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness.

Something else I wasn’t aware of is that March 20 is observed annually as the International Day of Happiness and, according to the people involved in this report, the natural way to measure a nation’s happiness is to ask a nationally representative sample of people how satisfied they are with their lives at the time.

Life evaluations from the Gallup World Poll provide the basis for the annual happiness rankings. They are based on answers to the main life evaluation question and respondents are asked to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10 and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale.

I was a little confused by this because, as far as I can remember, I have never taken part in any poll concerning my state of mind. I wasn’t aware that anyone was worried about my level of satisfaction with life, but if anyone had bothered to ask me, they would have received different responses depending on when they inquired.

For instance, if someone approached me with a clip board to ask me about my level of happiness with the world as I was having my prostate extracted from my body, they would have discovered my misery was at a level they had yet to experience.

If they had asked me how happy I was in the aftermath of having a couple of metal rods planted in my back, the pollster would probably have needed some medical intervention to remove said clipboard.

On the other hand, if I was asked the same question as I was stepping off a plane having landed in Cyprus for a holiday in the sun, my happiness level would be through the roof.

If Leeds United remain in the Premiership at the end of the football season, my joy will be unbridled, and I would easily score a 10 on that happiness ladder.

So, what’s the point of it?

Well, for a start we should be paying a bit more attention to Finland. They’re not known for being very chatty. In fact, they have a reputation for being unsociable and a bit glum.

There’s a long-standing joke about two Finns going to a bar for a drink. One says, “Cheers.” The other asks grumpily: “Have we come here to talk or to drink?”

Still, they have held the number one spot in the Happiness Index for the last six years so they must be doing something right.

Denmark and Iceland are in second and third place respectively and I would have considered those places to be cold at the best of times, so I don’t know what they’re so happy about.

On the other hand, Cyprus is down in 38th place, despite having a wonderful Mediterranean climate, so obviously happiness isn’t all down to the weather.

Afghanistan occupies the last position at 146, ranking them as the unhappiest nation in the world, which probably won’t come as much of a surprise given the unrest in that country.

According to the report though, the happiness scores take other factors into consideration too, like how individuals feel about the state of their country, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, and corruption.

The effectiveness of the government has a major influence on human happiness of the people, which worries me when I consider I might have to rely on Eamon Ryan and his colleagues to put a smile on my face.

Given the state of housing, health care, and homelessness here, I’m surprised we didn’t beat Afghanistan in a race to the bottom of this happiness index.

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