Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Jamaica continues to slide in happiness rankings

Published:Friday | March 24, 2017 | 3:00 AMSteven Jackson

Happiness in Jamaica worsened by three spots to rank 76 globally among 155 nations, according to the World Happiness Report 2017 released this week.

The multidisciplinary report noted that Jamaica's decline over a decade was the sixth largest fall-off in happiness seen across the world.

The report measures happiness based on per capita income, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, perceptions of corruption and avoidance of dystopia.

Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and Finland laughed all the way to the top of the world, while the Central African Republic was the most unhappy, according to the report's editors, Jeffrey Sachs, John Helliwell and Richard Layard.

"Happiness is increasingly considered the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy," stated the report published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which is a global initiative on behalf of the United Nations.

Canada led the Americas at No. 7, followed by Costa Rica at 12, United States at 14, Trinidad & Tobago at 38.

Trinidad rose five spots in the rankings. Its smile widened during a period of economic uncertainty, whereas Jamaicans got sadder amid a recovering economy.

The main innovation in the World Happiness Report 2017 was the editors' focus on the role of social factors in supporting happiness. They found that if an individual could rely on someone else during rough periods it would be equivalent to the rocketing of the country's per capita income from least developed to medium-developed status.

Interestingly, social support remained Jamaica's largest score among seven pillars on the ladder of findings.

"The effect from the increase in the numbers of people having someone to count on in times of trouble is, by itself, equal to the happiness effects from the 16-fold increase in average per capita annual incomes required to shift the three poorest countries up to the world average - from about US$600 to about US$10,000," the report said.

The report also highlighted that self-employed persons in the developed world are more likely to display happiness, while those in developing nations are less content due to struggling on the fringes.

"Being self-employed tends to be associated with higher life evaluation and positive affect - as compared to being a full-time employee - across Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and East Asia. However, individuals that are self-employed in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan Africa tend to report lower life evaluation and less positive affective experience," stated the report.

Over the decade, Venezuelans smiled a lot less, resulting in that country leading the globe in terms of its fall in happiness, while Nicaragua benefited from the largest rise in happiness over the decade.

Last year, Jamaica slipped nine spots to rank 73 in the wake of austerity measures imposed by the Government on advice from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These conditionalities resulted in new taxation and currency depreciation.

Jamaicans voted out the administration that executed the IMF agreement, but a year into the new Government, which sought to ease the austerity programme and implemented a personal income tax relief programme that is partially offset by new consumption taxes, they are still in the doldrums.

The inaugural happiness report was published in 2012, the second in 2013, and the third in 2015 with an interim update in 2016.

The report is written by a group of independent experts, led by the three editors acting in their personal capacities. The views are not necessarily that of the United Nations, although Sachs was a special adviser to then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Helliwell is affiliated with the University of British Columbia, and Richard Layard with the London School of Economics and Political Science.

steven.jackson@gleanerjm.com