Certain forms of liberty emerge as factors for happiness

A new happiness index shows that freedom is a major component of well being along with life expectancy.

The new World Happiness Report 2013 also says that a nation’s economy, having someone to count on and generosity also are important.

In fact, six variables explain 75 percent of the differences among countries.

The happiness index uses data from the Gallup Organization World Poll from 150 countries. The report, released Monday, again calls on policy makers to make happiness a key measure and target of development.

Unlike the Happy Planet Index released in June 2012, Costa Rica is 12th on the new list instead of first. The Happy Planet Index was far more ideological and said it was “calling on governments to adopt new measures of human progress that establish the goal of delivering sustainable well-being for all at the heart of our societal and economic decision making process.”

Vietnam ranked No. 2 on the Happy Planet Index. In Monday’s report that county came in 63rd. Venezuela was in 20th place in the World Happiness Report, higher than countries like the United Kingdom at 22nd place, Brazil at 24th place, France at 24th place, Germany at 26th place and Chile at 28th.

Costa Rica has used the Happy Planet Index results in several marketing efforts, and private firms have done likewise.

Northern European countries fared well on the new index. First was Denmark, followed by Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Austria, Iceland and then Australia at 10th place.

The United States was ranked 17th below Panamá at 15th and México at 16th place. From Denmark to Venezuela the countries had a score somewhere in the range of 7 out of a possible 10.

The report is published by the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

“There is now a rising worldwide demand that policy be more closely aligned with what really matters to people as they themselves characterize their well-being,” said Jeffery Sachs, head of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “More and more world leaders are talking about the importance of well-being as a guide for their nations and the world. The World Happiness Report 2013 offers rich evidence that the systematic measurement and analysis of happiness can teach us a lot about ways to improve the world’s well-being and sustainable development.” He is one of three editors of the report and was quoted in a press release

Governments are increasingly measuring well-being with the goal of making well-being an objective of policy, said a summary of the report, which contained extensive manipulation of statistics.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development also checked in with what it said could be some universal standard question that could be used in every country. This is the organization that also maintains a black list of so-called tax haven countries. It said that well being could be summarized with this question: “Overall, how satisfied are you with life as a whole these days?” using a 0 to 10 point scale.

The report said that a broad range of evidence showing the people who are emotionally happier, who have more satisfying lives, and who live in happier communities, are more likely both now and later to be healthy, productive, and socially connected. These benefits in turn flow more broadly to their families, workplaces, and communities, to the advantage of all, it said.

The U.N. General Assembly passed resolution in 2011 asking that happiness be studied.

The six major variables were listed as a nation’s gross domestic product per capita, years of healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble sometimes referred to as social support, freedom from corruption, prevalence of
generosity, and freedom to make life choices.

To develop the index, statisticians merged the Gallup Poll data for three years, from 2010 to 2012. Gallup usually surveys about 1,000 persons each year in each country.

The Gallup Poll uses something called the Cantril ladder, named after the originator, Hadley Cantril, who devised it in 1965. Cantril of Princeton University may be best known to non-psychologists for his study of the aftermath of the 1938
Orson Welles broadcast “War of the Worlds.”

Survey respondents are told to “imagine a ladder with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you.

“On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”

There also were other questions about being happy or sad.

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