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Danes Are the Happiest, Study Says

U.S. comes in 23rd in not-so-formal global survey

FRIDAY, July 28, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Piecing together information from more than 100 studies in the growing field of happiness research, a British psychologist has produced what he says is the first world map of happiness.

It ranks 178 countries, with Denmark at the top and the African nation of Burundi at the bottom. The United States comes in 23rd.

"While happiness is intangible, the scales used in these studies are very accurate," said Adrian White, an analytic social psychologist who is working toward a doctorate at the University of Leicester. "Happiness research is far from an exact science, but it is the best way we have of looking at it."

White analyzed the data in relation to a nation's health, wealth and access to education. The United States came in relatively low -- beneath Bhutan, Brunei and Canada, among other countries -- in large part because of health factors. "You don't have the highest life expectancy," he noted.

The biggest mystery is why Japan scored so poorly, 90th on the list, he said. "Japan scores highly on all of the factors," White said. "Its listing is one of the anomalies of the study."

Smaller nations such as Ireland (11th place), Costa Rica (13) and the Seychelles (20) tended to score higher because their citizens "have a greater sense of identity," White said.

The low scores of so many African countries and Russia (167) can be explained by "major gaps in both health and education," he said. The three bottom countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe and Burundi.

This is not the most formal of studies, White acknowledged. It is expected to be published in a University of Leicester student journal and presented at "our own festival of postgraduate research," he said.

Peyton Craighill of the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., which published a study this year of happiness among Americans, said, "Happiness is such a subjective measure. We looked at it over time. You can see what people say about personal happiness then and now, what people are reporting happiness, and who are not reporting happiness."

One finding of the Pew study that will disappoint romantics was that, to some extent, money does buy happiness. While 49 percent of Americans with an annual income over $100,000 reported themselves happy, only 24 percent of those whose annual income was under $30,000 said the same.

"According to our report, yes, people with higher levels of income were happier," Craighill said. "It was a pretty straight line."

Another important factor uncovered by the Pew researchers was marriage, with married people consistently reporting themselves happier than the unattached.

Overall, 34 percent of Americans described themselves as "very happy," with 15 percent saying they were "not too happy," Craighill said.

But, according to White, happiness in the United States and other developed countries such as Norway (19th place), Germany (35) and France (62) is measured on a different scale than in less-developed countries. "When you look at our concerns and compare them with those of Africans, you can appreciate the difference," he said.

More information

A good example of happiness research is presented by the Pew Research Center.

SOURCES: Adrian White, analytic social psychologist, University of Leicster, England; Peyton Craighill, Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C.
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