Happiness and sustainability
The United Nations has released the 2018 World Happiness Report. Finland leapt up four places to become the happiest country in the world. They are now ahead of Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland. Finland is regarded as the most stable, safest and best country in the world.
New Zealand remains unchanged at eighth position in the rankings. Meanwhile the US that
used to be at the top of the index, slips another four places down to 18th position, despite having one of the highest incomes per capita. The well-being of America’s citizens is described in the report as being ‘undermined by three interrelated epidemic diseases of obesity, substance abuse, and untreated depression’.
Interestingly, across China where hundreds of millions have migrated from rural areas to the cities there has been no change in the happiness of its population. This is despite significant increases in the prosperity of its citizens.
Creating a good life for citizens is one thing, another is to live sustainably on the only planet we have available. Researcher Daniel O’Neill at the University of Leeds rated 151 nations and found no country has created a good life for its citizens without overusing natural resources. He measured each country’s sustainability by looking at the use of resources such as water, phosphorous and nitrogen along with carbon dioxide emissions, changing land use, ecological footprint and material consumption. He also researched 11 other measures Including nutrition, sanitation, access to energy, longer life expectancy, income, education, quality of democracy and overall life satisfaction to assess whether citizens have good lives.
He describes ‘well off over consumer’ countries like the US, UK, and Australia as those that exceed the limits of resource consumption to feed their lifestyles. These countries appear down the list of happiness rankings. High levels of consumption do not seem to result in happiness and a better life. Rich countries should rethink what they actually need and reduce consumption.
A few countries are better off at living sustainability like Sri Lanka and Vietnam. However, while they live within the limits of their resources they fall short on well-being targets for their citizens. Poor countries should prioritise basic needs which can be met without overshooting resource limits.
Some of the strongest determinants of life satisfaction are good health, strong family and community relationships, economic security in the form of employment or higher incomes, and relative rather an absolute wealth with respect to the rest of society.
Finland currently has the balance right between life satisfaction and living sustainably. While no country achieves both, they do it best.
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