Does Money Buy Happiness? Gallup Checks It Out — Worldwide
Published on: March 27, 2010
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  • WigWag

    I wonder whether people’s perception of whether or not they are “thriving” or “suffering” correlates at all with levels of education.

  • John Barker

    Mr. Mead
    You frequently refer to your life in Queens. I have lived in small cities in the American West all of my life. I love to visit great cities and have seen a few, but I have often wondered what life is like for an a person of ordinary means. Hope you will give us a snapshot of your daily rounds. I have noticed that even in the West, young people are clustering in the urban cores. In my neighborhood, houses built in the thirties are being renovated and occupied by young professional couples. Some of my friends grew up in New York in the fifties and almost get teary eyed when they talk of it.

  • WigWag

    Something else that is very interesting is that people who live in nations that are communist or formerly communist (e.g. Cuba, Russia, Poland, etc.) are amongst those with the highest “suffering” quotient.

    But people who live in countries that most of us would describe as socialist or at least as social democracies (e.g. Denmark, Sweden and Norway) have the highest “thriving” quotients.

    One uncomfortable fact suggested by survey is that the nations in the world where people seem the most content are those nations that possess the most homogeneous populations.

    Nations that have not sorted themselves by religious, linguistic, ethnic and racial categories seem in general to be places where more people self-identify as “suffering.”

    The implications of this rather illiberal finding are both disturbing and profound.

    Where in the world are people the most happy? The Scandinvian nations. These nations are also far and away the least diverse nations in the world.

    On the other hand, the single most ethnically homogeneous nation in the world is Iceland and it is a nation where more people are “suffering” than “thriving.” But of course the banking crisis and the economic crisis hit Iceland more severely than any other nation in the world.

    I haven’t had time to analyze it, but it would also be interesting to ascertain whether there’s a North/South divide to the findings.

    Lack of sunlight can be rather depressing although they don’t get much sunlight in Denmark, Sweden or Norway; do they?

  • Peter

    And the point of this posting was … ?

  • WigWag

    John Barker, as a former resident (I live in Ft. Lauderdale, FL now) I can tell you that Queens is an amazing and very diverse place.

    Home to 2.3 million people it is the 10th most populous county in the United States and the 4th most densely populated.

    Amazingly 48 percent of Queens’s residents are immigrants yet everyone lives very comfortably together with none of the strife seen in other parts of the United States with big immigrant communities or in Europe where immigrants are being met with increasing hostility. The borough (one of five in New York City), was named for Queen Catherine, the consort of King Charles, II of England in 1662. Queens was actually an independent municipality until being incorporated into New York City in 1897 (Brooklyn was incorporated into New York at the same time).

    It sounds corny to say it, but Queens is actually a magnificent mosaic, Queens has thriving Italian, Irish, German, Polish, Czech, Russian and Greek communities (one neighborhood, Astoria, has more Greeks than anywhere in the world outside of Athens).

    Queens also has large and vibrant Colombian, Ecuadorian and Peruvian communities and its Mexican population is the second highest in New York City (after the Bronx). Many of the Mexicans in Queens come from a city in Mexico called Puebla. Queens is also home to a midsize Dominican community although most Dominicans in New York live in Washington Heights in Manhattan.

    Queens is also home to New York’s largest Asian communities; in fact, Queens has the nation’s largest Asian community outside of California, but the Asian communities in Queens are much more diverse than that in California. Queens is home to Chinese, Koreans, Filipino, Bangladeshi and Pakistani Americans. It also has a big and growing Indian population. By the way, in communities with a large number of South Asians like Astoria, the Hajib and the Burka are ubiquitous; unlike in France or in other places in Europe, no one cares and women can dress however they want without fear of being insulted or having their garb outlawed.

    Queens has a significant Arab population and is home to a fair number of Palestinians and an especially a large number of Egyptians. Steinway Street (named after the famous piano company that is still located in Queens) is actually called “Little Egypt” and houses several wonderful Egyptian restaurants that are well worth visiting.

    Queens is home to 190 thousand Jewish New Yorkers who live in many neighborhoods but especially in Rego Park, Fresh Meadows and Forest Hills. African Americans make up about 20 percent of the population of Queens and they live throughout the borough, but especially in Laurelton and Cambria Heights.

    Believe it or not, according to the census bureau,, 138 languages are spoken in Queens with the most common being English, Spanish, Chinese (various dialects), Korean, Italian Greek, Russian, Tagalog (Filipino), French, Punjabi, Guarati, Arabic, Creole and Polish.

    As you might imagine, all of this leads to a great restaurant scene with almost every cuisine you can think of as well as a great cultural scene.

    Many people don’t know it but Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie lived in Queens during the jazz era and Armstrong’s house has been preserved as a terrific museum that is well worth visiting. Queens was also the birthplace of Tony Bennett, who attended Bryant High School in Woodside.

    In Astoria, the workshop of the great sculptor Isamu Noguchi has been turned into a museum featuring his work; people come from all over the world to see it. Astoria has been called “Hollywood East.” Most of the Marx Brothers movies were shot at sound studios on 36th Avenue in Astoria and Queens is still home to a number of sound stages and movie studios including Kaufman Studios (the Sopranos and the Cosby Show were shot there) and the Silvercup Studios (Sex in the City, Mad Men, 30 Rock and Ugly Betty are all filmed there). There is also a wonderful museum dedicated to film and television right next to these studios called “The Museum of the Moving Image.”

    By the way, Queens has one other claim to fame; it has more cemeteries than any other county in the United States. Celebrities buried in these cemeteries include Louis Armstrong, Harry Houdini, Alan King (the comedian) and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Shneerson.

    In short, Queens is a great place; you should visit!

  • Rich

    I grew up in Queens and now live in NJ. I loved Queens when I was there and it was very different from what it is currently as WigWag has described, but fantastic. Very diverse even then and on 20 minutes by subway from midtown where I worked. It is a terrific place to visit but it is a city and is not like a small town in many respects but is in others.
    When I lived there it only had 1.9 million people and my High School only has 5,000 students 🙂

  • It should be pointed out that the Iraq survey was proibably done around 2006 or 2007. Most Iraqis in 2009-20010 reported better expectations for the future.

    http://www.brookings.edu/saban/iraq-index.aspx

  • Sol

    Money isn’t everything, but it beats what comes in 2nd.

  • Snorri Godhi

    It’s great that we have hard data on happiness, but these surveys require caution. I know that for a fact, because I am much happier in ex-Soviet Estonia than I was in Denmark. My interpretation (wildly speculative) is that Estonia offers good opportunities for happiness, but older Estonians have the disadvantage of learned helplessness (learned during Soviet times). Younger Estonians seem to be more cheerful.

    After looking at happiness surveys, one should also look at migration patterns. It seems that remarkably few people want to move to the Nordic countries, except from countries with much lower standards of living (and this class of immigrants seems happier in the Netherlands than in Denmark, in my experience). It could be that people are irrational, but I think it more likely that people do not automatically become happier by moving to the Nordic countries: I believe that the Nordic people are happier because of cultural and possibly genetic factors; possibly also because of their homogeneous societies. Immigrants cannot easily absorb the local culture, cannot change their genes, and do not live amongst like-minded people until and unless they adopt the local culture; therefore, to put it bluntly, it is rational for people to stay away from the Nordic countries.

  • Glen

    The happiness data is fascinating and really important and its turned into quite a rich and improving dataset.

    In particular, Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stephenson (two young economists) have been doing some fascinating work. They’re found that increases in GDP does lead to increased happiness, overturning previous results based on much poorer data. Also that female happiness has declined over the past 30 years, both absolutely and compared to men. Considering that women’s lives have improved in a variety of ways, its a puzzle for which we have no good explanation.

    The misery in former communist countries is striking. Of course, it confirms a wealth of anecdotal evidence, but that it has persisted so long after the fall of the Eastern bloc speaks to the horrors of that system.

    And what wonderful news it is that much of the third world is developing rapidly. We should see sustained increases in happiness for billions of people in China, India, Brazil and Indonesia over the coming decades if they keep on they keep on their development path. Surely that is one of the most important long-term trends in the world.

    That’s quite a challenge to a lot of people on the political left. Its very important for the happiness of poor people around the world that they get access to electricity, cars and economic development. I think that’s been forgotten a bit with the valid concerns over climate change and environmental sustainability.

  • Thanks for sharing the results of this study. I might add that the academic research mill – in psychology and economics – has recently published some interesting studies on the connection between happiness (well-being or life satisfaction) and prosperity.

    – “In Happiness Around the World: The Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires,” Carol Graham asks these questions:
    – Can we really answer the question what makes people happy?
    – Can it really be proved with credible methods and data?
    – Is there consistencey in the determinants of happiness across countries and cutlures?
    – Are happiness levels innate to individuals or can policy and the environment people live in make a difference?
    – How is happiness affected by poverty or progress?

    – In a study on happiness and income levels, Christopher Boyce wonders about the relationship between a person’s level of life satisfaction, absolute income and income rank. He asks if pursuing economic growth does indeed make people any happier.

    – In “The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being,” Derek Bok is concerned with the fact that average levels of satisfaction with life have not risen appreciably in the United States over the past 50 years, even though real per capita incomes have grown a great deal during this period. For more on happiness from a midlife perspective – and from a former resident of Ozone Park, Queens in the late 50s and early 60s- check out http://www.happiness-after-midlife.com.

  • eric

    @tallview The Iraq data are from Aug 2009. you can also view over 100 other survey item results from the annual world poll survey here. https://worldview.gallup.com

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