You might not guess from conversations with the average man in the street, but Israelis are among the happiest people in the world.
Israel ranked 14th in the World Happiness Report, published last week by Columbia University’s Earth Institute and commissioned for the United Nations Conference on Happiness.
The report ranked the happiness of the world’s nations based on a “life evaluation score,” a number between 0-10 that measures several factors including health, family and job security, and social factors like political freedom, social networks and lack of government corruption.
Scandinavian countries were prominently represented at the top of the list, with Denmark, Finland and Norway in the first three slots and Sweden seventh. The Netherlands ranked fourth and Canada closed out the top five. The United States ranked eleventh.
The five least happy countries in the world, according to the report, were Burundi, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Benin and Togo. The average life evaluation score of the bottom countries was 3.4, as opposed to the average ranking of 7.6 in the top four.
One of the goals of this report was to challenge the assumption that happiness is directly correlated to wealth. According to coverage of the report in The Atlantic, some economists have concluded in recent years that whereas national progress and well-being can be measured by a country’s per capita Gross National Product (GNP), there are several other equally or more important factors.
While the countries that are happiest by and large do tend to be the wealthiest ones, it is social factors that play a larger role in the happiness of those countries, including the absence of government corruption and the degree of personal freedom. The study concluded that not all countries with a higher standard of living have seen an increase in happiness, and the report cites the United States as an example of this.
According to the report, the single most important factor affecting happiness is mental health. Yet even in the more advanced countries, only about 25% of the mentally ill receive treatment.
The report found that job security and good relationships with co-workers are more relevant to job satisfaction than high pay and convenient hours. Stable family life, enduring marriages and good behavior were also quoted as significant factors affecting overall happiness.
In more advanced countries women are happier than men; in poorer countries it is mixed. The least happy time of life was found to be middle age.