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‘World Happiness Report’ Focuses on Government, Forgets Faith

Faithful light candles on the eve of Christmas in Podgorica, Montenegro January 6, 2020. (Stevo Vasiljevic/Reuters)

The annual “World Happiness Report 2019” is out, which depends on the Gallup World Poll, and it turns out the U.S. comes in rather low among free countries at number 19.

The Declaration of Independence states that all of us are “endowed” by our Creator with “inalienable rights,” among which is “the pursuit of happiness.” The idea, of course, is that finding happiness is the responsibility of the individual and that government may not unduly interfere that quest.

But according to the study’s technocratic authors, government is the prime creator of happiness. Indeed, the first topic mentioned in the report is “happiness and government,” which are the subjects of the first two chapters. In Chapter 2 they write:

At the most basic level, good government establishes and maintains an institutional framework that enables people to live better lives. Similarly, good public services are those that improve lives while using fewer scarce resources.

The authors also worry about “happiness inequality,” a new term for me that certainly implies that government’s role is to pursue policies that make everyone equally happy.

The factors that the authors claim determine a country’s happiness are:

  • GDP per capita
  • Social Support
  • Healthy life expectancy at birth
  • Freedom to make life choices
  •  Generosity
  •  Perceptions of corruption

Notice that vigorous government would have a clear tie-in with most of these. Accordingly, Western free countries with the most socialized systems are at the top of the list as the happiest countries, led by Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland, with the U.S. coming in behind Canada and Israel, albeit ahead of France, Italy, Spain, and the Czech Republic.

The conclusions in reports like this depend on data and what is included as relevant criteria, or to paraphrase Pilate, what is happiness?

In this regard, I noticed a glaring absence from these happiness-gauging criteria; a robust personal faith and religious participation in one’s life. I did a word search of the entire report and neither the words “faith,” nor “religion” appear, nor is the issue discussed in the chapter on personal “pro social behavior.”

What a glaring omission. It seems to me as a non-social scientist that living a life of meaning and purpose are more important in deriving life satisfaction than GDP and life expectancy at birth — which, in turn, would seem to be a more important factor in a good life than mere “happiness.” Certainly, people who are not religious are happy and live meaningful lives, but I think that overlooking this crucial aspect in the life experiences of literally billions of people in the world — again, as a non-social scientist — renders the happiness report substantially useless.

Here’s a little evidence that supports my conclusion. The supposedly happiest country, Finland, also has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, higher than ours — and we are in the midst of a suicide crisis. So do the next three highest ranged countries, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland.

Which brings us back to the question: What is happiness? This report is a waste of time.

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