The happiest country in the world

By Frederick Mordi

“Action may not always bring happiness … but there is no happiness without action.”

                                                                                                                                        —Benjamin Disraeli

When Switzerland is mentioned, what immediately comes to your mind? It will likely be a beautiful country famous for its classy wristwatches, nice chocolates and secretive financial system.

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But beyond these, Switzerland is also the happiest country in the world, according to the ‘2015 World Happiness Report’ released by the United Nations in New York, last week. Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada, trailed behind Switzerland. The other countries that made the top 10 include Finland, Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, and Australia. Surprisingly, the United States and the United Kingdom placed 15th and 21st, respectively, on the list.

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The annual report, the third in the series, seeks to quantify happiness as a means of influencing government policy. It used the following factors as yardstick: real gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption and generosity. The top 10 happiest countries scored high on each of the six indices.

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Nigeria, once regarded as the happiest country in the world, came a distant 78th in the ranking of 158 countries. Nigeria also placed fourth in Africa. Interestingly, war-torn Libya is rated the happiest country in Africa and 63rd in the world.

However, Togo a West African country that is currently squabbling over the result of last Saturday’s presidential election, believed to have been won by incumbent President Faure Gnassingbe, was ranked the least happy country in the world. Afghanistan, Syria and seven other sub-Saharan African countries— Burundi, Benin, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Chad, complete the list of the 10 least happy countries.

Noting that happiness has become a measure of social progress and a goal of public policy, the report said leading experts across several fields of human endeavour including economics, psychology and health, defined how measurements of welfare can be used to gauge the progress of nations.

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One of the editors of the 166-paged report and renowned American economist, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, observed that the top 13 countries—all Western countries—remain virtually unchanged a second year running, even though their order shifted a bit.

“One of our very strong recommendations is that we should be using measurements of happiness … to help guide the world during this period of the new sustainable development goals,” Sachs said. “We want this to have an impact, to put it straight forwardly, on the deliberations on sustainable development because we think this really matters.”

If there is one president that has taken this report seriously, it is German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, whom Richard Layard of the London School of Economics, described as “the most interesting world leader” in terms of her response to happiness data.

Layard, who also contributed to the report, particularly commended Merkel for initiating a grassroots project that seeks to find out “what people want to see changing in order that their wellbeing might change.” This will help Germany improve on its current ranking of 26th.

The report further established that a positive outlook during childhood helps lay a solid foundation for greater happiness later in life. It thus recommends early investment in the welfare of children as a path to future happiness.

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“We must invest early on in the lives of our children so that they grow to become independent, productive and happy adults, contributing both socially and economically,” Layard added.

Although the report seems to agree that factors that make people happy are not the same in all countries, it says personal success and self-expression are important determinants of happiness in a country such the United States. That perhaps explains why celebrities like ‘living large’ in the US! But the report did note that money cannot buy happiness.

While the report may have some flaws, nevertheless, there are some valuable lessons Nigeria can learn, if she is to regain her lost glory. Happily, since the country is on a new path of change, it is not unlikely that Nigeria will appreciate considerably in the next ranking of the happiest countries in the world if the government takes the right action.

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