Puerto Rico , Brazil , Chile , Venezuela , Peru , Ecuador , Costa Rica , Uruguay and Nicaragua
Opinion Piece

The secret of true happiness

Bnamericas Published: Monday, March 21, 2016

Are the people of Nicaragua really so much happier today than they were eight or so years ago? And if so, how come? And what about the people of Ecuador, Chile, Uruguay and Peru?

All five Latin American nations appear in the top 11 of the ranking of countries where people's happiness rose the most between 2005-07 and 2013-15 in the latest edition of the World Happiness Report. Inexplicably, Nicaragua comes in the top spot among the 116 countries rated for their change in happiness, with Ecuador third and the other three countries not far behind.

That may sound like great news for Latin America, until one looks at the overall happiness ranking, as opposed to the change in the level of contentment, and sees Nicaragua languishing in an admittedly still quite respectable 48th position out of 157 countries, and Ecuador 51st. The highest placed Latin American countries in the absolute ranking are Costa Rica (14th) and Brazil (17th), with the territory of Puerto Rico snuggling between at 15th.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland and Norway head the list, with Afghanistan, Togo, Syria and Burundi at the opposite end.

So what are we to make of these rather bizarre – at least so far as Latin America is concerned – conclusions? The report, organized by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, is an analysis of data from around a thousand surveys in each country every year for three years. That in itself should be a stern caveat. It's the mother of all surveys, based on around half a million other surveys, each prone to errors and idiosyncrasies. It uses as criteria six principal metrics, known as regressions, utilizing the Cantril ladder model: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy at birth, freedom to make life choices, generosity (apparently that really makes people happy) and perceptions of corruption. In other words, it's a statistician's dream come true, and we all know what that means. Lies, damn lies and...

The real problem, however, is that the above factors don't measure, or even indicate, the level of people's true happiness. They may have some influence, of course, but happiness is far more complex than that, and for most people depends much more on individual circumstances – family, friends, relationships, personal financial situation (rather than GDP per capita), one's job, interests, the success of their favorite sports team, etc., etc. So calling the study the World Happiness Report is a monumental misnomer that unfortunately trivializes the extremely serious factors it claims to indicate, and gives ample fodder for the media to come up with frivolous headlines like "The Danes are the jolliest people on Earth."

The whole point of the 'happiness craze' was to get away from simply using GDP per capita as a measure of well-being, for which it is woefully inadequate. The trend probably began with the king of Bhutan's concept of gross national happiness thought up in 1972. The idea was a serious one: to come up with an alternative to gross domestic product that better reflected Bhutan's culture and spiritual values instead of material development. (Today, four countries – Bhutan, Ecuador, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela – have ministers of happiness.) That's fine, but such indicators should not purport to measure happiness and should be seen as complements rather than alternatives to GDP.

Subscribe to the most trusted business intelligence platform in Latin America. Let us show you our solutions for Suppliers, Contractors, Operators, Government, Legal, Financial and Insurance.

Subscribe to Latin America’s most trusted business intelligence platform.

Other projects in: Electric Power

Get critical information about thousands of Electric Power projects in Latin America: what stages they're in, capex, related companies, contacts and more.

Other companies in: Electric Power (Uruguay)

Get critical information about thousands of Electric Power companies in Latin America: their projects, contacts, shareholders, related news and more.