In general, people in rich countries are happier – or at least feel they are happier – than people in poor ones. But an even more striking one is that people in small countries are happier than people in large ones.
The largest of the top 20, Canada, has only 33 million people and most of the rest have fewer than ten million. Of the big countries, the US does rather well at 23rd, Germany is 35th, the UK 41st and France 64th. China is middle of the pack at 82nd and is happier than Japan at 90th, while India and Russia languish at 125th and 167th. Finally there is a little sad group at the bottom: the Democratic Republic of the Congo is 176th, Zimbabwe 177th and Burundi is 178th.
So there are no simple rules that governments can follow to make voters feel happier. It is not just that we are not Denmark or Switzerland, to take the top two in the list. It is that Denmark and Switzerland are very different societies from each other, organised in quite different ways. To take just one measure of that difference, the government in Switzerland spends 33 per cent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), while in Denmark it spends 52 per cent. No, it seems to me that insofar as it is within the capacity of government to increase the happiness of its citizens, the main thing it should strive for is competence. It matters less how big government is but how good it is.
In their different ways both Denmark and Switzerland have competent governments.
World’s 10 Happiest nations:
Source: University of Leicester/Hamish Mc rae