Social Climate

Track happiness over time, not space

/ 05:04 AM March 24, 2018

The 2018 World Happiness Report (WHR) was surely timed for the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness, March 20, as was the SWS report, “Fourth Quarter 2017 Social Weather Survey: Record-high 94% of Pinoys are ‘Very/Fairly Happy’; Record-high 92% are ‘Very/Fairly Satisfied’ with Life,” www.sws.org.ph, posted 3/20/18.

The new WHR spin is that the world’s happiest country is now Finland, rather than Norway.  Last year’s spin was that Norway overtook Denmark, 2016’s happiest.  Actually, the top three WHR scores are now 7.632 for Finland, 7.594 for Norway, and 7.555 for Denmark, which all round off to 7.6.  Fourth-ranked Iceland is at 7.495, or 7.5 when rounded.


An 11-point scale. The WHR score is scaled from 0 to 10, where 0 is the worst possible life, and 10 is the best possible life, that the person being surveyed can imagine. Note that it does not use the words “happy” or “happiness.”

This is an 11-point scale (including 0) of perceived relative position in life. The number 5 is its exact midpoint.  Global data for this score have been collected annually by the Gallup World Poll for over a decade.


Southeast Asian scores. Out of 156 countries scored in the new WHR, nine are in Southeast Asia: No. 34—Singapore 6.34, No. 35—Malaysia 6.32. No. 46—Thailand 6.07, No. 71—Philippines 5.52, No. 95—Vietnam 5.10, No. 96—Indonesia 5.09, No. 110—Laos 4.62, No. 120—Cambodia 4.43, and No. 130—Myanmar 4.31.

WHR 2018 reports the average score per country for the three years 2015-17, rather than the score for 2017 only.  It compares this with the average score for 2008-10, seven years earlier.  For me, this is the better purpose of scoring a country along any dimension: not for competition against other countries, but to track its progress or regress in that dimension over time.

Of 141 countries with data in the two time periods, 69 improved and 72 worsened.  The best performance was +1.19, in Togo, and the worst was -2.17, in Venezuela.

Southeast Asian progress. The WHR’s changes in Southeast Asia, with global ranks, are: No. 13—Malaysia +0.73, No. 14—Philippines +0.72, No. 37—Thailand 0.30, No. 53—Cambodia +0.19, No. 88—Indonesia -0.16, No. 89—Singapore -0.16, No. 102—Vietnam -0.26, and No. 114—Laos -0.421.

The Philippine change of +0.72 is the difference between its 5.52 average in 2015-17 and its 4.80 average in 2008-10. Its average in the intervening years 2011-14 is 5.07. The full +0.72 is the sum of +0.27 initially and +0.45 later—i.e., there was steady improvement throughout. (Annual Philippine scores for 2006-17 are in WHR2018Chapter 2OnlineData.)

For the Philippines, being 14th out of 141 is far superior to being 71st out of 156.  In Southeast Asia, being second in terms of progress is superior to being fourth in terms of status.

Simple four-point scales. Social Weather Stations has asked respondents if they are happy with life, and/or if they are satisfied with life, in more than 30 surveys since 1991. These are answerable by Very, Fairly, Not Very, or Not At All. The title of the new SWS report refers to the record high numbers of the first two answers in December 2017.


Global findings on the two above items are in the World Database of Happiness. For research papers, see the Journal of Happiness.

Comparative happiness. Another, newer, indicator of subjective wellbeing is the survey respondent’s self-assessment of present life compared to his or her personal best and worst actual experiences in life. SWS tried this out in December 2017 and will do a special report on it soon.

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