Denmark, Sweden and Canada lead the world in high-well being – the percent of people who say they are “thriving” in life, according to a newly released survey by the Gallup Organization. The U.S. ranked 12th, behind Panama and Venezuela. Nineteen countries registered high rates of well-being, with more than half of their populations reporting that they are thriving in their day to day lives.
The world is sharply divided by levels of well-being, according to the same survey. In 67 nations, less than 25 percent of respondents reported that they are thriving in their lives. In 22 countries, less than 10 percent reported that they are thriving. Just one percent of people in Chad, and two percent in the Central African Republic and Haiti reported that they are thriving. While African nations reported the lowest levels of thriving, low levels were also found in Middle Eastern and South East Asian nations.
Of the BRICs nations that are so often lauded for their economic progress, only Brazil reported a high level of thriving (57 percent). Russia’s (24%), India’s (17%) and China’s (12%) levels were not so robust.
Clearly a good part of this is related to income: Poor countries report lower levels of happiness than more affluent ones, as a number of happiness studies show. But there are other factors at work as well, as my own research with Charlotta Mellander and Jason Rentfrow reveals. Our results indicate that the factors that contribute to happiness differ in high- and low income countries. In low-income nations (defined as those with less than $11,000 in per capita GDP), happiness turns on income. But it matters much less in high-income countries. In these countries, people are affluent enough to cover the basics which are essential to a base level of happiness. Two factors matters in particular over and above income in these more well-off nations. The first is the nature of the job market: people are happier in affluent nations where more of them work in knowledge-based, creative and professional jobs and less work in blue-collar working class jobs. Values matter too, especially openness and tolerance toward ethnic and racial minorities and toward gay and lesbian people.
High levels of well-being and of thriving seem to turn not just on income but on the ability to find work that is challenging, purposeful and enjoyable and the freedom one has to be one’s self.