Can you quantify happiness? The United Nations is pretty sure it can. For the second year running, the UN has invited its member countries to measure the happiness of their populations in an effort to help them make better public policy decisions. Yesterday it released its 2013 World Happiness Report, in which it asserted, "Happiness is an aspiration of every human being, and can also be a measure of social progress." Happiness, besides being valuable in itself for most of us, also contributes to longer lifespans, higher earnings, and increased productivity. That is, it pays to keep your people smiling.
The key variables for measuring happiness contained no real surprises: a high real GDP per capita, a healthy life expectancy, having someone to depend upon, generosity, perceived freedom to make life choices, and freedom from corruption all indicate a smiley disposition.
If you want to optimize your own chances of statistically living a happy life, take a cue from some of the report's findings:
1) Live in Scandinavia.
Norway and Sweden were among the happiest countries, along with the nearby Netherlands. True, this icy hinterland may have given birth to Edvard Munch, Henrik Ibsen, and Ingmar Bergman, who were not exactly known for a cheery demeanor. But you know who else is Scandinavian? ABBA. And they's some happy Swedes.
2) Being alive in America is maybe overrated.
The US slipped to 17th place on the list, just behind Mexico. That's right: We didn't even edge out a country with five times our murder rate (and a fifth of our GDP per capita). So, just not being killed each day is clearly not a major factor in happiness.
3) Be rich, but not too rich.
Money can indeed solve some of your problems. (Check out the correlation between the rising economies in Latin America and the Caribbean and their boost in happiness in the last year.) But it can't solve everything. Ireland, like the US, boasts one of the top average wages for its population and falls right behind us on the happiness index. But those happy people in northern Europe live more comfortably than most (the Swedish government even says so) without being the world's highest earners.
4) See a shrink.
The UN report claims that mental illness is a major causative factor in misery. (Go figure.) It estimates that 10 percent of the world's population suffers from depression or anxiety — but even in developed countries, fewer than one-third of those afflicted are in treatment.
5) Canada's a safe bet.
It may have slipped from last year to the number six spot, but Canada's still one of the happiest countries in the world. Ff you can't bear the climate in northern Europe, head to our northern neighbors instead. (CBS News)