Check out the graph bellow that maps out the level of happiness that many of world’s countries allegedly posses.
The graph comes from an article called Income, Health and Wellbeing Around the World: Evidence from the Gallup World Poll, in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.
Here’s a part of the abstract:
The US ranks 88th out of 120 countries in the fraction of people who have confidence in their healthcare system, and has a lower score than countries such as India, Iran, Malawi, Afghanistan or Angola . While the strong relationship between life-satisfaction and income gives some credence to the measures, as do the low levels of life and health satisfaction in Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union, the lack of correlations between life and health satisfaction and health measures shows that self-assessed life or health evaluations cannot be regarded as useful summary indicators of human welfare in international comparisons.
Emphasis mine, of course.
The paper goes on to say:
It is far from clear why questions of life satisfaction should be so closely related to national incomes. A good deal of the literature emphasizes the relative nature of such responses; when people answer such questions, they must surely assess their life satisfaction relative to some benchmark, such as their own life in the past, or the lives of those around them. Indeed, in their recent review, Clark, Frijters, and Shields (2007), argue that life satisfaction is sensitive to respondent’s income relative to those with whom they most closely associate, which implies that there should be no relation between average national life satisfaction and national income, unless there is some other aspect of national income that raises everyone’s life satisfaction together.
When we turn to health and its effects on life-satisfaction, the poll results diverge from what would be required in a “capabilities approach” to an understanding of the sources of human well-being. Longer life expectancy surely enables people to do more with their lives, and is arguably the best single indicator of population health. Yet, conditional on income, longer life expectancy has no apparent effect on life satisfaction. Instead, it is changes in the expectation of life that seem to have an effect, no matter whether life expectancy is high or low. Even satisfaction with health, a more focused question, is not related to life expectancy. The extraordinary low health satisfaction ratings for Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union are a testament, not to their poor population health, but to a decline in health among a population that was used to a better state of affairs.
In spite of the positive relationship between life satisfaction and national income, and in spite of the plausibility of unhappiness and health dissatisfaction in the countries of Eastern Europe, neither life satisfaction nor health satisfaction can be taken as reliable indicators of population well-being, if only because neither adequately reflects objective conditions of health.
So, the author is making the argument that we need to beware of using self-assessed measures of heath satisfaction in our evaluations of a countries citizens level of happiness.
I think a lot of Americans (like the ones who were so rabid during the Health care town hall meetings) have become so desensitized to the status quo that they don’t realize what they are missing.
(Hat Tip: Gene Expression)