Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

20 Mar 2016

Happiness and sustainability

Posted by Michael Keating

Measuring sustainability is notoriously difficult. When we look at environmental, economic and social issues, we face different measuring systems. It’s very hard to add them all up and come up with a single indicator for sustainability. The World Happiness Report is not a sustainability report, but it does give us a feeling for how people feel about their societies. It also correlates very well with separate economic, social and environmental measurements. The report authors state that happiness is higher in countries that do well in moving toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

This year, Denmark heads a list of 157 countries for citizen happiness and a sense of well-being. This is not surprising considering the Danes have a strong social safety net, a solid economy and good environmental performance. Next on this list are Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden.

The happiness ranking, the fourth since 2012, was based on responses to a global Gallup poll. People were asked where they felt they stood on a scale ranking from the best to the worst possible life. The report found that differences in social support, incomes and healthy life expectancy are the three most important factors that bring happiness, along with social and work conditions, pollution and values.

The report was prepared by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, an international panel of social scientists that includes economists, psychologists and public health experts convened by the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. It was edited edited by a group of independent experts: John F. Helliwell, of the University of British Columbia, Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Columbia University economist, and Richard Layard, Director of the Well-Being Programme at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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