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A happy face is seen during Oslo, Norway's 2013 pride parade. (Photo: Tjook/flickr/cc)

Caring for the Common Good Wins: Norway Ranks World's Happiest Country

But in U.S., happiness is falling and Republican priorities stand to make it worse

Andrea Germanos

Norway now holds the title of the world's happiest country, according to a new report that also outlines how Republican proposals to gut safety nets, enact tax windfalls for the rich, and attack public education—as well as bipartisan failures in terms of the global war on terror and campaign finance—are making happiness further out of grasp for those in the United States.

The finding comes via the fifth edition of the World Happiness Report, which ranks 155 countries on the variables of income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity. It was produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a United Nations initiative, and was released Monday, the International Day of Happiness.

Norway now holds the number one spot, booting Denmark from the ranking it held for three of the past four years. Norway came in at number four last year.

Joining Norway in the top ten slots are, in order, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden. It's the same group that made up the top ten countries last year.

Like the other top four countries, Norway ranked high in caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income, and good governance.

At the other end of the spectrum sit Rwanda, Syria, Tanzania, Burundi, and the Central Africa Republican, which rank lowest on the happiness index.

According to lead author John Helliwell, also an economist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, Norway is "a remarkable case in point."

"By choosing to produce oil deliberately and investing the proceeds for the benefit of future generations, Norway has protected itself from the volatile ups and downs of many other oil-rich economies. This emphasis on the future over the present is made easier by high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity, and good governance. All of these are found in Norway, as well as in the other top countries," Helliwell said.

As for the United States, it has slid down one spot from last year, coming in at number 14, and the country, the report says, is "a story of reduced happiness."

Study co-author, economist, and SDSN director Jeffrey Sachs writes (pdf) that the U.S. suffers not from an economic crisis but a "multi-faceted social crisis."

It is made clear, he writes, by "worsening public health indicators"; "plummeting" trust in government; and "astronomical" income inequality, with "the rise of mega-dollars in U.S. politics" and the "deterioration of America's educational system" helping to fuel "destruction of social capital."

Further abetting that destruction has been the country's reaction following the September 11 attacks, which, Sachs writes, "was to stoke fear rather than appeal to social solidarity" and begin "an open-ended global war on terror, appealing to the darkest side of human nature."

Though the country's "social crisis is widely noted, [...] it has not translated into public policy." Rather, he continues:

Almost all of the policy discourse in Washington, D.C. centers on naïve attempts to raise the economic growth rate, as if a higher growth rate would somehow heal the deepening divisions and angst in American society. This kind of growth-only agenda is doubly wrong-headed. First, most of the pseudo-elixirs for growth—especially the Republican Party's beloved nostrum of endless tax cuts and voodoo economics—will only exacerbate America's social inequalities and feed the distrust that is already tearing society apart. Second, a forthright attack on the real sources of social crisis would have a much larger and more rapid beneficial effect on U.S. happiness.

Addressing the crisis entails enacting campaign finance reform; reducing inequality by expanding the social safety net and funding of health and education; "improv[ing] the social relations between the native-born and immigrant populations"; moving beyond the post-9/11 fear campaign (which he writes, President Donald Trump's "Muslim bans" have been a manifestation of); and making a commitment to improved quality education for all.

"As demonstrated by many countries, this report gives evidence that happiness is a result of creating strong social foundations," Sachs said to the Associated Press. "It's time to build social trust and healthy lives, not guns or walls. Let's hold our leaders to this fact."


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