Saturday, October 04, 2003

BBC News - Nigeria Tops Happiness Survey

Now here's a surprise if ever there was one:

A new study of more than 65 countries published in the UK's New Scientist magazine suggests that the happiest people in the world live in Nigeria - and the least happy, in Romania.

People in Latin America, Western Europe and North America are happier than their counterparts in Eastern Europe and Russia.

Nigeria has the highest percentage of happy people followed by Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador and Puerto Rico, while Russia, Armenia and Romania have the fewest.

But factors that make people happy may vary from one country to the next with personal success and self-expression being seen as the most important in the US, while in Japan, fulfilling the expectations of family and society is valued more highly.

The survey appears to confirm the old adage that money cannot buy happiness.

I find the results of this survey really quite difficult to believe. There are serious methodological difficulties in carrying out surveys of this sort that make them of dubious value at best. How does one even measure one person's happiness against another? When Carl Menger introduced the notion of subjective value and utility into economics, he had very good reasons for doing so, not the least of which was that his notions helped overcome the troublesome issues that arose from trying to carry out the interpersonal comparisons demanded by utilitarianism. If philosophers haven't been able to get past this difficulty within the last 130 years or so, why should we take at face value a study that seems to assume the problem is solved?

I'm willing to accept that money and happiness aren't necessarily linked, but I don't think studies of this type do much to prove that this is true. One person's definition of happiness will differ from another's, even within the same family, much less across cultures.