Since it was first published in 2012, the World Happiness Report demonstrated that well-being and happiness are critical indicators of a nation's economic and social development, and should be a key aim of policy. This year's report looks at the changes in happiness levels in 158 countries, and examines the reasons behind the statistics. The World Happiness Report 2015 also comes in advance of three high-level negotiations that will give world leaders the opportunity to reshape the global agenda and move the world towards a sustainable development agenda that includes well-being as an essential element.
"The aspiration of society is the flourishing of its members," said Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University. "This report gives evidence on how to achieve societal well-being. It's not by money alone, but also by fairness, honesty, trust, and good health. The evidence here will be useful to all countries as they pursue the new Sustainable Development Goals."
The report, produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), contains analysis from leading experts in the fields of economics, neuroscience, national statistics, and describes how measurements of subjective well-being can be used effectively to assess national progress. The report is edited by Professor John F. Helliwell, of the University of British Columbia and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research; Professor Richard Layard, Director of the Well-Being Programme at LSE's Centre for Economic Performance; and Professor Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute and SDSN.
The first World Happiness Report, released in 2012 ahead of the UN high-level meeting on Happiness and Well-being, drew international attention as a landmark first survey of the state of global happiness. This latest report digs even deeper into the data looking at country trends since the first report, regional indicators, factors in gender and age, and the importance of investing in social capital.
The report identifies the countries with the highest levels of happiness:
"As the science of happiness advances, we are getting to the heart of what factors define quality of life for citizens," said Helliwell. "We are encouraged that more and more governments around the world are listening and responding with policies that put well-being first. Countries with strong social and institutional capital not only support greater well-being, but are more resilient to social and economic crises."
The report also includes a chapter on the mental health and wellbeing of children, featuring unique research undertaken by the World Innovation Summit for Heath (WISH), an initiative of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF). Professor Layard was appointed by WISH to chair world-leading research on the fragility and significance of mental wellbeing in children.
The research revealed that one in ten young people under 18 has a diagnosable mental illness such as depression, anxiety and conduct disorder - amounting to 220 million worldwide. Of these, more than half will go on to develop mental illness in adult life and have a three times higher risk of being involved in crime, drug abuse or suicide. The chapter calls for childhood mental illness to be taken as seriously as physical illness and recommends the use of smartphone technology to make education and support programs accessible to all.
"It is not surprising to hear that a positive and stable outlook during the early stages of life is inherently desirable, but importantly it lays the foundation for greater happiness during adulthood," said Layard. "As we consider the value of happiness in today's report we must of course also consider the need to invest early-on in the lives of our children so that they grow to become dependent, productive and happy adults, in turn contributing socially and economically."
As previous reports have done, The World Happiness Report 2015 reveals trends in the data judging just how happy countries really are. On a scale running from 0 to 10, people in over 150 countries, surveyed by Gallup over the period 2012-15, reveal an average score of 5.1 (out of 10). Six key variables explain three-quarters of the variation in annual national average scores over time and among countries: real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity (Table 2.1). This year for the first time ever, the Report breaks down the data by gender, age, and region. It finds striking differences, some much larger than have previously been found.
The World Happiness Report 2015 shows that at both the individual and national levels, all measures of well-being, including emotions and life evaluations, are strongly influenced by the quality of the surrounding social norms and institutions. These include family and friendships at the individual level, the presence of trust and empathy at the neighborhood and community levels, and power and quality of the over-arching social norms that determine the quality of life within and among nations and generations. When these social factors are well-rooted and readily available, communities and nations are more resilient.
The report also demonstrates that a key national challenge is to ensure that policies are designed and delivered in ways that enrich the social fabric, and teach the power of empathy to current and future generations. Under the pressures of putting right what is obviously wrong, there is often too little attention paid to building the vital social fabric. According to the report, paying greater attention to the levels and sources of subjective well-being has helped us to reach these conclusions, and to recommend making and keeping happiness as a central focus for research, policy and practice.
The World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) is a global healthcare community dedicated to capturing and disseminating the best evidence-based ideas and practices. WISH is an initiative of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF) and is under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, its Chairperson.