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Jamaicans among world's happiest - UN

Published:Wednesday | June 20, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Jamaica ranks 40 out of 156 nations in the first United Nations-commissioned World Happiness Report, edited by renowned economists Jeffrey Sachs, John Helliwell and Richard Layard, and released recently.

The findings, released in April, indicate the island was most negatively affected by corruption and lacklustre growth. However, when those measures are discounted, Jamaica ranks among the world's happiest people.

Denmark, Finland, Norway, Netherlands and Canada scored the highest on the index, and Togo the lowest.

Jamaica aside, the happiest countries in the region were found to be Costa Rica, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico and Brazil. The report found that Hispaniola, the Dominica Republic and Haiti, respectively, were the least happy regionally.

Why so happy?

Helliwell, professor emeritus of economics at the University of British Columbia, told Wednesday Business in an interview that a country's rank was due to the interplay of the potential for happiness with social support, health and life expectancy, corruption and freedom to choose.

"Then the bars show how well-being is higher in a specific country because their income is higher, their lifespan longer and their corruption less ... than in the least favoured country," Helliwell said.

Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, did not respond to a request for comments. Layard, is the director for the Well-being Programme at the Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics and Political Science.


The rankings, captured in a ranking graph, or cantril ladder, indicate that Jamaica's happiness was most negatively affected by corruption and lacklustre growth.

Helliwell said the ranking is an average of several thousand responses globally, including from Jamaica, over the period 2005-2011.

In the Gallup World Poll, respondents were asked (using fresh annual samples of 1,000 persons, aged 15 and over, in each of more than 150 countries) to evaluate the quality of their lives on an 11-point ladder or scale running from zero to 10, with zero meaning they were least happy.

Higher income did not necessarily equate to happiness, noted the researchers, referencing the US which ranked 11th, just ahead of Costa Rica, the happiest developing nation.

"Higher average incomes do not necessarily improve average well-being, the US being a clear case in point," said the report, adding that the tripling of US gross national product since the 1960s was met with average happiness remaining essentially unchanged over the half-century.

"The increased US output has caused massive environmental damage, notably through greenhouse gas concentrations and human-induced climate change, without doing much at all to raise the well-being even of Americans," the report said.

"Thus, we don't have a tradeoff between short-run gains to well-being versus long-run costs to the environment. We have a pure loss to the environment without offsetting short-term gains," added the report.

The report has pointed to the increased importance of happiness in economic and sustainable development.