Every so often, Gallup and other polling companies go around the world asking the citizens of different lands how happy they are. Forbes ’ website today published the most recent iteration of the “happiness” poll , in which the Scandinavians, as usual, came out on top. Also among the top eight were Australia, a country so rich that daily labor is considered a minor interruption of the primary occupation of hauling a barbecue and cooler to the beach, and Israel. The Aussies and Israelis are tied for number 8.

Of course, just what might constitute happiness can be culture-specific. Putting the Scandinavians (as well as the Dutch) at the top of the poll is somewhat counter-intuitive, for these are peoples who generally do not seem particularly cheerful.

Finland ranks second in happiness on the Gallup survey, although it has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, at 29 per 100,000 of population, putting it in fourteenth place. Denmark’s alcohol consumption puts in the top 10 at 11.7 liters of pure alcohol equivalent per capital per year; perhaps what makes Danes happy is that they like to drink and, given the country’s generous welfare state, have ample leisure to do so. Finns may feel happy because if things don’t work out they have the option of suicide.

Some years ago I constructed an alternative measure, based on objective variables rather than subject responses to pollsters. I plotted the fertility rate vs. the suicide rate, surmising that people who like having children and don’t like killing themselves must be happy.

The result was striking:

Among the industrial nations, Israel had the highest fertility by far, and the second-lowest suicide rate. (Israelis are not big drinkers, either, consuming only 2.5 liters of alcohol equivalent per capita per year). Of course, Israelis complain incessantly and bicker about everything. Even so, the fact that Israel was tied with happy-go-lucky Australia in the Gallup pool seems remarkable. By objective measures, they are, well, a people apart, as Balaam said.

Articles by David P. Goldman

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