The Age of Sustainable Development – Happiness

Netherlands was ranked in the top 5 happiest countries, together with Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden[1]. I couldn’t help but to smile and increase the average Dutch happiness for a brief moment. I’ve only just came aware of the report that was published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) on my birthday last year. That day my Dutch friend Aron and I were pretty happy, hiking across the Himalayan foot-hills in search of Everest Basecamp and 16 hours away from the nearest road.

There is a stark contrast between Netherland’s wealth, educational system, social security, trade-rich harbours, transparent governance and stunning Nepal that is landlocked, poor and not without corruption. Nepal is ranked 135 on the World Happiness report.

How do you measure a country’s happiness country or unhappiness?

Traveling the poorer regions of the world for last year I often get toothless smiles brightening my day. No matter whether someone is uneducated, undernourished or jobless everybody can be happy. Many travelers assure each other that the less fortunate world citizens are happy, sometimes even happier than us ‘rich’ people. This is NOT the case. Locals may smile when seeing a foreigner and their camera, but they struggle for daily survival and deal with corrupted environments that they cannot escape from.

The report has shown that strong indicators of happiness are mental & physical health, political freedom, social networks, fair governance without corruption and job security. Also, people who value generosity and compassion generally consider themselves happier than people who are more focused on money and materialism.

Measuring happiness still sound a bit vague, doesn’t it?

Yes, kind of. The problem is that we can’t simply look at GDP to measure the success of country anymore. Measuring happiness may sound vague, but happiness studies include many factors. But there are many indicators to consider when dealing with progress and development.

The Human Development Index (HDI) combines health, education and GDP. Comparing GDP and HDI shows how some countries have failed to translate the financial income of natural resources into widespread education and health services (Equatorial Guinea, Oman, several Central Africa countries). While other countries have a high HDI compared to what their GDP would suggest (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Eastern Europe, South Korea, New Zealand).

The GINI coefficient measures equality of income within a nation. Example sources of inequality are low education, discrimination and government policies. Equality is dependent on wealth as it is simply a measure of its distribution. Neither is there a linear relation with Happiness, but again Scandinavian countries top the charts.

We must learn from all available data when we aim to build a fair, equal, prosperous and green global community and we must encourage innovators who asks: “On a scale of 1 to 10, on which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”

Jiddu Alexander

[1] World Happiness Report, edited by John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs 

Tools used in week 2 of The Age of Sustainable Development.
Growth rates of cities around the world via citymayors.
World Urbanization Prospects. via UNPOP.
Population division country profiles via UNDESA .
Big Mac index via The Economist.

Twitter: #susdev and @JeffDSachs

Jiddu Alexander’s The Age of Sustainable Development Series
Brief History of Economic Development
Why give aid? Or not (Uganda gay laws example)

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