The Psychology of Everyday Life: Motivation and the Search for Happiness - Happiness across Cultures

5 important questions on The Psychology of Everyday Life: Motivation and the Search for Happiness - Happiness across Cultures

How do we compare happiness across cultures?

There is a growing body of literature that looks at happiness from an international point of view. Studying happiness across different countries can be very helpful for public policy planners, allowing them to identify the social and political factors that promote well-being.

As with other happiness research, the best way to measure the subjective sense of happiness is to ask someone directly, "How happy are you?". Happiness researchers also ask people about their satisfaction with their life.

What is the World Database of Happiness?

Ruut Veenhoven is a Dutch sociologist who has conducted cross-cultural research into happiness since the 1980s. In his World Database of Happiness, he has compiled data on happiness studies from countries all over the world into a publicly available Website (

There is also data on the correlates of happiness. For example, how much do political freedom and gender equality correlate with happiness? Veenhoven derives much of his findings from a ten-point scale ranging from 0 = most dissatisfied to 10 = most satisfied.

What factors seem to contribute to happiness across nations?

On the whole, wealthier countires have happier citizens. Nonetheless, a country's wealth and its happiness ratings are not entirely aligned. Therefore monly only accounts for part of the story. According to Veenhoven's studies, war, political instability, totalitarian governments, and economic chaos pull happiness ratings down. It also seems that democracy, security, gender equality, strong social programs, political stability, and greater political and economic freedom promote happiness in a country's citizens. Social cohesion, which Veenhoven refers to as "brotherhood," is also an important contributor to happiness.

How do the wealthiest countries do in terms of happiness?

Of the top ten wealthiest countries in terms of capita income, only four (Iceland, Switzerland, Norway, and Luxembourg) ranked among the top ten happiest countries. The other six countries ranged from the fourteenth happiest country (Ireland) to the fifty-fifth (Hong Kong). Singapore ranked thirty-second in happiness ratings.

The United States is the fourth wealthiest country in terms of per capita income with an average income of $47.000 per year, yet we ranked twenty-seventh in happiness ratings, with an average happiness rating of 7,0.

Are people in wealthier countries happier than those in poorer nations?

The list of happiness ratings below was collected from the World Database of Happiness, which compiles data on happiness studies from all over the world. These ratings apply to the years 2000 to 2008. The information on each country's income was gathered from the CIA World Fact Book. Per capita income refers to the average income on each country's citizens. As we can see from the table, the average happiness ratings, which range from 0 (least happy) to 10 (most happy), vary across the four income quartiles. On average, wealthy countries have higher happiness ratings.

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