Is Your Country Happy?
Are you happy? Can you buy lots of cool stuff? Are these two things perfectly correlated? No, not really. Studies have shown that we might anticipate the purchase of a material thing, but its effect on our happiness depreciates very quickly. Experiences tend to last longer in terms of emotional value.
Still, would you give up your iPhone forever to live happily in the woods with no electricity and running water? Likely most of us would not. So, when it comes to Quality of Life indices, how do you separate out the squishy emotional components of well-being from the harder, more literal measures of economic well-being?
In other words, when comparing cool places to live, how do you decide between cash and happiness? You want both of course. But what kind of balance between money in the bank and a satisfying life-experience do you aim for?
We looked at the top 25 countries in terms of the Quality of Life index at Numbeo – the self-assessment aggregator where us consumers input the numbers directly into their data banks, before they do the statistical crunching.
If you deduct their Consumer Price + Rent Index from their Quality of Life index that gives you a rough measure of how much value is left over, after you’ve bought food and drink, and then paid the rent. You would hope the number would be positive, and in the top 25 it is. The countries have way more to offer than rent, food, and drink obviously. You can call it: The Value of Living Somewhere = Quality of Life – Cost of Life.
If you take that rough measure of The Value of Living Somewhere, and compare it to the Local Purchasing Power Index – how much stuff you can buy on an average wage, compared to someone in New York – then you have an interesting contrast between Happiness (Quality of Life – Cost of Life) and Utility (How much stuff you can buy).
How do the Numbeo Top 25 countries do when balancing cash and happiness? Consider the following graphic:
Local Purchasing Power (stuff you can buy on an average salary compared to NYC) is deducted from the Value of Living Somewhere (Quality of Life minus CPI and Rent) to see how much happiness is really left over after you pay off your Credit Card bills.
Applying this formula to our Top 25 countries we get a few surprises:
Ouch, our land of not-so-secret-anymore bank accounts, world class companies and tennis pros and perfect skiing may not be such a happy country. Score:
The Emerald Isle is more about green bits of paper – ok, they’re not green but you get the point – than the green fields of innocent happiness.
23. The United States of America
There are over 30 million Americans with a little Irish in them, so it makes sense they would be brethren on this chart.
Speaking of Irish immigration, no surprises here mate.
Is all that oil money in their Sovereign Wealth Fund making them bitter?
20. South Korea
They have progressed at astonishing rates since the early 60s. Maybe they’re just a little worn out.
One word: Winter. Otherwise we would be the happiest country in the world.
No gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. Just a slightly cautious and rather prosperous outlook on life.
Do Finns have fun? They did invent the sauna…
16. The United Kingdom
Nearly all surplus happiness allocated to bourgeois consumption with just a dash of happy to spare for a rainy day.
Huh? Who knew the Belgians would be as balanced as the British? Despite the EU.
Even more Zen than Beverly Hills but not quite as shopping crazed.
Who else at lucky 13 than the glorious Gallic Republic?
You’d think they’d have more fun than Sweden seeing the weather is not quite as cold.
Just ahead of Denmark on the surplus happiness scale. Despite not seeing the sun half the year.
They actually don’t spend all their happiness! They must have a BundesGlück somewhere.
A very practical country. Where people like to make money. But also like to be happy.
Ok, we’re getting into serious surplus happiness territory now. They say Vienna is a great city to enjoy life in.
7. New Zealand
Wow. What a difference from their loud neighbours.
Ah, what a real estate meltdown can do! Suddenly not quite as expensive but still a great place to visit, or to live.
5. Czech Republic
Prague is beautiful. The pilsner is world class. And this is the first country on our list who can’t keep up with the Jones in NYC. Does it matter?
They have an Adriatic coast and are southern neighbours to those hedonistic Austrians. Sounds like a good mix.
Happiness in the land of Aeschylus and Oedipus? And a crisis that has anarchists torching your local bank branch?
Wine, sun, good seafood, world-class soccer stars and cheap prices! Even in Euros!
The war is long over. Long live happiness.
Who would have thought that Croatia is number 1 in terms of surplus happiness? Maybe you’d prefer Paris or New York. Or Milan (Italy did not make the top 25). But for Croatians the future seems pretty good.