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Happiness tops in Denmark, lowest in Togo, study says

April 2, 2012 | 11:21 am

Denmark

Are you happy? It's a question that economists and pollsters are asking all over the world, hoping to gain new insight into what brings us joy -- and why people answer differently in different countries.

Bhutan is leading an international meeting Monday at the United Nations, seeking to establish “next steps towards realizing the vision of a new well-being” that include gauging happiness in different nations. The Asian country already has a national happiness index, and is urging others to follow suit.

How happy is your country? In a report released for the meeting, economists John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs round up what is known about happiness around the globe.

Different groups have asked different questions to measure happiness. In the widest such survey, Gallup asked people to rate their lives from 0 to 10. It found huge differences in global happiness: More than a third of Europeans ranked themselves an 8 or higher. Less than 5% said so in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to polls taken from 2005 to 2011, these were the happiest countries:

  1. Denmark
  2. Finland
  3. Norway
  4. Netherlands
  5. Canada
  6. Switzerland
  7. Sweden
  8. New Zealand
  9. Australia
  10. Ireland

The United States ranks 11th, just after Ireland. The unhappiest countries were Togo (ranked last), Benin, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Comoros, Haiti, Tanzania, Congo and Bulgaria. Bhutan, which pioneered the happiness index, is not included in the Gallup World Poll. (Other surveys rank countries differently from Gallup. To see some of the other rankings, read the full report.)

It's not hard to notice that the unhappiest countries are also some of the poorest.The four happiest countries have incomes that are 40 times higher than the four unhappiest countries, the report said. People can also expect to live 28 years longer in the happiest nations.

But economic growth doesn't necessarily drive up happiness, the report found. For instance, U.S. incomes have grown dramatically since the 1960s, yet average happiness hasn't changed, past research has found. Freedom and trust in government are also big factors in happiness, the report said.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Danish Minister for Economy and Interior Margrethe Vestager after the second day of a Eurozone finance ministers meeting in Copenhagen on Saturday. Denmark is the happiest country in the world, according to Gallup polls. Credit: Lars Krabbe / Associated Press / Polfoto

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