Cyprus is the happiest country in Southeast Europe, according to a recent UN-commissioned survey, listing Bulgaria among the ten unhappiest nations in the world.
By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 09/04/12
Greece, which stood on the brink of default for months on end last year, was ranked the 42nd happiest nation in the world. [Reuters]
Cyprus and Greece are the happiest countries in Southeast Europe, according to the first-ever World Happiness Report, published by the Earth Institute of Columbia University in New York on April 2nd.
The survey, covering 156 states across the globe, was commissioned for a high-level UN conference on happiness held in New York on the same day.
"GNP has long been the yardstick by which economies and politicians have been measured. Yet it fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the meeting.
The conference was called and hosted by the government of Bhutan, where the idea of using happiness as a measurement of national prosperity and good governance was born in 1972. Eventually, the tiny Himalayan kingdom adopted the goal of Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than GNP.
According to Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute, who co-edited the World Happiness Report with Richard Layard of the London School of Economics and John Helliwell of Canada's University of British Columbia, gains in GNP cannot alone promote happiness.
The United States, which was placed 11th in the world in the report, "has had a three time increase of GNP per capita since 1960, but the happiness needle hasn't budged," Sachs said at the UN meeting. "Other countries have pursued other policies and achieved much greater gains of happiness, even at much lower levels of per capita income."
Compiled on the basis of various national and international surveys from 2005 through mid-2011, Cyprus emerged as the highest-ranking country in Southeast Europe again, placing 35th in the world. Crisis-hit Greece, which stood on the brink of default for months on end last year, was ranked the 42nd happiest nation, well ahead of the other 11 countries in the region.
"It may be that they [the authors] have used data from 2008 and 2009, at the latest, thus it may be dated, in other words, pre-crisis, probably," Dr Maria Simosi, a lecturer in organisational theory and product and systems design at the University of the Aegean, told SETimes.
"However, Greeks may continue to score high if the social cohesion [parametre] remains high, in comparison to other similar countries undergoing an economic crisis."
Unemployment, which causes as much unhappiness as bereavement or separation, according to the UN report, has been rising in Greece since the crisis began, and currently stands at 21%.
Asked to comment on the country's good standing in the global table, Helliwell said that the rankings "are based on average scores for 2007 to early 2011, and are not likely to reflect current events."
"We hope in a subsequent report to start to show and account for changes over time," he told SETimes.
Of the other 11 regional countries, Croatia was ranked 56th, ahead of Kosovo (68th), Moldova (75th) and Turkey (78th). Romania was placed 80th in the world, while Montenegro (86th), Albania (88th) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (99th) were the only other countries from the region to make it among the top 100.
Serbia and Macedonia took the 118th and 127th slots, respectively, while Bulgaria (147th) emerged as the 10th unhappiest country in the world, ahead of eight African countries and Haiti, which was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2010.
Assistant Professor Zaharina Savova, a Sofia-based clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, was not surprised by Bulgaria's poor ranking. People feel happy when they are able to achieve their goals, be they material, spiritual or social, she said, noting that whatever people do with their lives, it should be in harmony with their inner nature.
"Bulgarians tend to always complain and to notice mainly the negative sides of things, and we rarely praise or encourage each other," Savova told SETimes. "Therefore, when one lives in an environment dominated by repudiation and discontent, one is affected by that negative energy in the air and can hardly feel happy. We are afraid to rejoice at being happy, so we are unable to fully enjoy that feeling."
The study ranked Denmark, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands as the happiest countries in the world with life evaluations averaging 7.6 on a 0-to-10 scale. Togo was named as the unhappiest of all 156 surveyed nations, behind Benin, the Central African Republic and Sierra Leone. The average score of the four sub-Saharan countries was 3.4.
"Happier countries tend to be richer countries," the report said, noting that incomes in the top four nations are 40 times higher than those in the bottom four. However, more important for happiness are factors such as having friends to count on, sense of freedom to make life choices, healthy life expectancy and absence of corruption, it added.
H.K. Tzanis in Athens contributed to this report