International differences

The differences in happiness between countries are big and they exhibit regional patterns. In both life satisfaction and wellbeing the Nordic countries fare best along with Ireland, Austria and Switzerland. Just below them are Anglo-Saxon countries, major parts of Latin America and the continental part of Europe. The unhappiest countries include Russia, large parts of Eastern Europe and many African countries. Regions that can be placed in the middle are large parts of southern Europe and Asia.

Several explanations of the differences between countries have been studied. Happiness tends to be is higher in economically prosperous countries with a high level of democratic freedom and rights where trust between people is high, and in countries with an individualistic culture1 2 3. However, we can’t safely say that any of these elements reliably cause happiness – correlation and correlations are often unclear.

While concrete percentages of influences for human happiness and quality of life are already not definable in general for the whole world population, the aspects can vary very differently between members of the same world region and culture too. Some persons prefer more hedonistic life styles with exhilarating activities such as sports, sex, drug abuse, more free time than the average for some hobbies, others are able to feel fine with a more conservative life structure which consists of more security via extended health care, family care and activities, a more important work life and so on.

More problems occur because of different linguistic terms and conditions: While the American English and culture tends to be understood and used by its members in a more positive and optimistic way and often reflects a very individualistic approach, in some Asian countries the expression of positive feelings is not that generally widespread all the time. The situation of the collective seems to be more important than that of the single members.

  • 1. Stevenson B, Wolfers J. Economic Growth and Happiness: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity. 2008;:1–102.
  • 2. Tov W, Diener E. Culture and subjective well-being. Handbook of cultural psychology. 2007;:691–713.
  • 3. Diener E, Helliwell JF, Kahneman D. International Differences in Well-Being. Oxford University Press US; 2010.