Research - 25.11.2013 - 00:00 

Happiness around the world

When do people feel fine? Does happiness depend on growth and money? And what influence does income have on life satisfaction? This is what Andrew Oswald, University of Warwick, talked about in a public lecture at the HSG.


22 November 2013. The GDP dated back to a time in which foodstuffs were scarce in western countries. Happiness was more in line with the times as an indicator of social prosperity. The gross domestic product was no longer a meaningful measurement parameter for a society’s success and well-being, said the renowned happiness researcher Andrew Oswald at the beginning of his address.

This confronted research with challenges: in contrast to income, the data about people’s feeling of happiness in various countries had to be compiled and evaluated for years. Thus Oswald examined, for instance, how income and individually perceived life satisfaction are related. The result: although increases in income in the USA and in Europe enhanced subjective life satisfaction, it only did so for a short period of time. If economic growth reaches a certain level, life satisfaction stagnates. Occasionally, it even decreases.

Happiness factors for countries
What, though, makes people in different regions of the world happy? In order to find out, Oswald conducted surveys which reflect individual life satisfaction. For example, interviewees provided information about how satisfied they currently were, how happy they had been yesterday or a year ago, what was worrying them, how often worries kept them awake at night, and other questions in this vein.

Among the factors that have a big influence on individual life satisfaction are work, health, friendships and marriage. Envy, insecurity and injustice lead to dissatisfaction – which is hardly a surprise. Thus interviewees were disgruntled if a colleague’s income was significantly higher than their own although they did the same type of work. Happiness factors for countries proved to be values such as the possibility of doing business, clean air, social security, little corruption and crime, and investments in health and education. Oswald’s research findings that in most western countries subjective life satisfaction has evened out at similarly high levels between various social groups and strata, therefore do not come as a surprise.

Switzerland among the top ten of happiest nations
The “Easterlin Paradox”, a theory about the nexus between income and happiness, would continue to occupy research, the economist predicted. He encouraged students in the crowded Audimax of the University of St.Gallen to deal with the “General National Happiness Indicator” as the new GDP. At present, the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland are among the top ten countries in which people feel happy. At the end of his lecture, the economist advised the audience to “keep calm and eat chocolate.”

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