New Zealanders among world's happiest people

No need to tell Kiwis to cheer up - we're already among the happiest people in the world.

No need to tell Kiwis to cheer up - we're already among the happiest people in the world.

New Zealanders are the eighth happiest people in the world, trailing some small European countries and Canada.

According to the latest edition of the World Happiness Report, we're marginally chirpier than our Australian neighbours in ninth place, and way happier than bottom-placed Burundi.

The results are based on roughly 1000 "life evaluations" carried out each year in each of more than 150 countries, as measured by the Gallup World Poll using something called the Cantril ladder question.

People are asked:  "Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?"

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In New Zealand's case that gave an average score of 7.334, compared to top-placed Denmark with 7.526, Australia with 7.313, the US in 13th place with 7.104, and the UK at 23rd with 6.725.

Scandinavian countries tops in terms of happiness, but Kiwis aren't far behind.

Scandinavian countries tops in terms of happiness, but Kiwis aren't far behind.

For the top 10 countries, the life evaluations average was 7.4, while for the bottom 10 it was less than half that at 3.4.

To measure changes in happiness, the report compared life evaluations from 2005-2007 - before the global recession - with the period from 2013-2015.

New Zealand had a bigger change than 22 other countries - slipping by 0.097 points - out of the 126 countries where the change could be measured.

Probably unsurprisingly, after being slammed by the global financial crisis, Greece had the biggest setback with a fall of 1.294 points, while Egypt did second worst with a fall of 0.996.

Biggest improvement was in Nicaragua, which lifted 1.285 points, followed by Sierra Leone's 1.028-point gain.

The report said three-quarters of the gap between the most and least happy countries could be explained by taking into account six variables used to try to explain happiness levels. Those variables are GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perceptions of corruption.

The report is the fourth in a series that started in 2012, and is a publication of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, written by independent experts.

It was released in Rome on Wednesday (local time) ahead of UN World Happiness Day on Sunday.

A cyclist rides past autumn-coloured ivy climbing the wall of a building in downtown Copenhagen, Denmark.

A cyclist rides past autumn-coloured ivy climbing the wall of a building in downtown Copenhagen, Denmark.

The experts writing in the report seek to show how "the new science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness".

The new report is the first in the series to give a special role to the measurement and consequences of inequality within countries in the distribution of well-being.

The report's editors found people were happier living in societies with less inequality of happiness, but they also found happiness inequality had increased significantly in most countries. 

Inequality of happiness is measured using the standard deviation - a measure of how spread out numbers are - of Cantril ladder answers.

On that basis New Zealand had the 18th lowest inequality, with Bhutan having the least inequality, the Netherlands third least, Singapore fourth, Denmark 22nd, Canada 29th and Australia 30th. Most unequal was South Sudan.

The report said evidence indicated major crises had the potential to alter life evaluations in quite different ways according to the quality of social and institutional infrastructure.

"In particular ... there is evidence that a crisis imposed on a weak institutional structure can actually further damage the qualify of the supporting social fabric if the crisis triggers blame and strife rather than co-operation and repair," the report said.

"On the other hand, economic crises and natural disasters can, if the underlying institutions are of sufficient quality, lead to improvements rather than damage to the social fabric."

The 10 happiest countries with their scores (out of 10):

1. Denmark 7.526
2. Switzerland 7.509
3. Iceland 7.501
4. Norway 7.498
5. Finland 7.413
6. Canada 7.404
7. Netherlands 7.339
8. New Zealand 7.334
9. Australia 7.313
10. Sweden 7.291


Knud Christensen, a 39-year-old social worker, knows one reason why his Danish compatriots are laid-back - they feel secure in a country with few natural disasters, little corruption and a near absence of drastic events.

"We have no worries,'' Christensen said, smiling as he stood on a Copenhagen street near the capital's City Hall. "And if we do worry, it's about the weather. Will it rain today, or remain gray, or will it be cold?''

The Danish royal family are seen at a garden in Graasten Castle during their summer holidays.

The Danish royal family are seen at a garden in Graasten Castle during their summer holidays.

The Scandinavian nation of 5.6 million has held the happy title twice before since the world body started measuring happiness around the world in 2012. The accolade is based on a variety of factors: People's health and access to medical care, family relations, job security and social factors, including political freedom and degree of government corruption.

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Egalitarian Denmark, where women hold 43 percent of the top jobs in the public sector, is known for its extensive and generous cradle-to-grave welfare.

Few complain about the high taxes as in return they benefit from a health care system where everybody has free access to a general practitioner and hospitals. Taxes also pay for schools and universities, and students are given monthly grants for up to seven years.

Many feel confident that if they lose their jobs or fall ill, the state will support them.

Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University, one of those behind the report, says that happiness and well-being should be on every nation's agenda.

"Human well-being should be nurtured through a holistic approach that combines economic, social and environmental objectives,'' he said in a statement before the World Happiness Report 2016 was to be officially presented in Rome on Wednesday.

The Roman Catholic Church welcomed the study, declaring that happiness is "linked to the common good, which makes it central to Catholic social teaching,'' according to Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, one of Pope Francis' key advisers.

Kaare Christensen, a university professor in demography and epidemiology in Odense, where fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen was born, says it doesn't take much to satisfy Danes.

"They are happy with what they get. Danes have no great expectations about what they do or what happens to them,'' she said

Christian Bjoernskov, an economy professor at the University of Aarhus, Denmark's second- largest city, believes feelings of self-assurance and self-determination have a lot to do with it.

"Danes feel confident in one another... when we stand together, we can succeed,'' he says. "And they also have a strong belief they can decide their own lives.''

 - with AP

 - Stuff


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