We Can Be A Happier Country

March 23, 2017 Carol No comments exist

This year the U.S. is number 14 in happiness, a ranking so low that we literally fall of this chart.


The data comes from the 2017 World Happiness Report, released on March 20th, to coincide with World Happiness Day.The report was prepared by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, an international panel of social scientists convened by the United Nations.

The U.S. Has Been a Story of Reduced Happiness

In 2007 the U.S. ranked 3rd among the countries; in 2016 we came in 19th.This year (2017) a sad 14th place. That translates to a decline of 0.51 points between the two-year periods ending in 2007 and 2016.


How can we reverse this downward spiral?

How Can We Become a Happier Country?

The 2017 World Happiness Report offers some insights. 


An analysis of the data shows that three-quarters of the variation among countries can be explained by six economic and social factors:

  1. Gross domestic product per capita (a basic measure of national wealth)
  2. Healthy years of life expectancy
  3. Social support (having someone to rely on during times of trouble)
  4. Trust (a perceived absence of corruption in government and business);
  5. The perceived freedom to make life choices
  6. Generosity

How is the U.S. scoring on these six factors? We have actually been making gains on the first two. But we are doing poorly on the remaining four.


In other words, falling American happiness is due primarily to social rather than to economic causes.


“We’re getting richer, but our social capital is deteriorating,” says Jeffrey D. Sachs, Columbia University economist, and one of the report’s authors.


Sachs is the author of Chapter 7. Restoring American Happiness. I encourage you to read this chapter in its entirety. Below is a brief synopsis. 

Restoring American Happiness

America’s crisis is a social crisis, not an economic crisis.


This America social crisis is widely noted, but it has not translated into public policy. Almost all of the policy discourse in Washington DC centers on naïve attempts to raise the economic growth rate, as if a higher growth rate would somehow heal the deepening divisions and angst in American society. This kind of growth-only agenda is doubly wrong-headed. First, most of the pseudo-elixirs for growth—especially the Republican Party’s beloved nostrum of endless tax cuts and voodoo economics—will only exacerbate America’s social inequalities and feed the distrust that is already tearing society apart. Second, a forthright attack on the real sources of social crisis would have a much larger and more rapid beneficial effect on U.S. happiness.


The country is mired in a roiling social crisis that is getting worse. Yet the dominant political discourse is all about raising the rate of economic growth. And the prescriptions for faster growth—mainly deregulation and tax cuts—are likely to exacerbate, not reduce social tensions.


To fix that social fraying, policy makers should work toward campaign finance reform, reducing income and wealth inequality, improving social relations between native-born and immigrant populations, overcoming the national culture of fear induced by the Sept. 11 attacks, and improving the educational system.

How Do We Make America Great?

a happier country

I leave you with this lovely quotation from Robert F. Kennedy about the fundamental shortcomings of gross national product as a measure of well-being. It’s from a speech he gave at the University of Kansas on March 18, 1968.

For too long we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community value in the mere accumulation of material things……the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials……It measures everything in short except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.” — Robert F. Kennedy

Kennedy made those remarks on March 18, 1968 — over 49 years ago. It’s taken some of us a while to appreciate Kennedy’s wisdom.


Please read my earlier post How Do We Make America Great?

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