Perhaps you've heard that people in Norway are happier than wherever you live, or that the people of Bhutan are models of human happiness.

But a new study from the Australian National University (ANU) suggests that all this business of ranking the happiest nations perpetuates a myth that political borders can determine individual happiness.

"All things considered, happiness does not actually vary very much between nations," said Dr. Richard Burns from the ANU Research School of Population Health. "Many of the reported happier nations, such as Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands often report rates of suicide and psychiatric distress that are in the top 15-25 percent of the world's nations."

Instead Burns says his investigation found that inequalities within nations actually have a greater influence on how happy citizens are. 

"The results showed that if government policy helped improve the capacity of people to live comfortably on their income, it could lead to an improvement in people's happiness," he said.

The research is published in the Journal of Happiness Studies and is based on 2006 European Social Survey data from 43,000 participants across 23 countries.

"Whether citizens in different nations are living with a sense of purpose, vitality and engagement, or of belonging to a community--strong indicators of people's happiness--is really unrelated to the nation in which they live," Dr. Burns said.

In other words, you could be just as happy living in Slovakia as in Sweden, especially if you make a comfortable living.

So if it isn't about where you live, but how much you make, then how much do you need to earn to be happy? That's another loaded question, but that hasn't stopped science from trying to answer it as well. In fact, the answer was just recently revised

Published on: Mar 7, 2018
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of