While there are almost infinitely many ways to rank countries, many readers will agree with me that one of the most important questions to answer is how happy a country is. In 2011, the UN General Assembly initiated a project that sought to measure the happiness of citizens of member countries. But how do we measure the happiness of a country? The measurement is mostly based on a simple task: in each country, a significant number of 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?”
A report issued by the UN in 2017 ranked Norway as the happiest country in the world. (The Reader already knows that the phenomenon of “pecking order” among chickens was discovered in Norway, and the Norewgian Magnus Carlsen has the highest Elo number. The neurobiologists among our readers will also remember that May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser from Norway were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2014 for discovering certain types of neurons called grid cells, which are responsible for spatial information processing.) It was remarkable to see the reaction of the Prime Minister Erna Solber: “even if we top this statistic now we must continue to prioritize mental healthcare.” Actually there is no statistically significant difference among the happiest five countries, which each received scores around 7:5: Norway – 7:54; Denmark – 7:52; Iceland – 7:50; Switzerland -7:49 and Finland – 7:47. The Central African Republic had the lowest score at 2:69. In 2018, Finland took the lead, and the United States ranked 18th out of 156 countries surveyed–—down four spots from 2017’s report. In spite of a strong economy, the US ranks quite poorly on social measures such as life expectancy and suicide rates. Major factors possibly contributing to this drop in ranking are the worsening of the opioid crisis, the growing economic inequality, and the decrease in confidence in government. Investment in mental health care is likely to correlate to average happiness. A good proxy for investment in mental healthcare is the number of psychiatrists and psychologists working in mental health care per capita. Based on these figures, average happiness appears to be higher in countries that invest more in mental health care. Like it or not, developed mental health care implies the more frequent use of antidepressants. Increasing antidepressant utilization and decreasing national suicide rates have been reported recently from the happiest country in the world.