This short, happy life

In two weeks time, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) will release its 3rd World Happiness Report (to avoid any confusion, it won’t deal with happiness in the “Third World” as the developing countries were name in the past). Using a standard set of questionaires and socio-economic parameters, it will rank 156 countries in terms of higher or lower “happiness”. This rank list takes three pages of the entire report. On the remaining 150 pages it will try to make sense of the gains and loses of happiness over the last years, and why some countries are much happier than others.

With some certainty one can expect that Denmark is heading the rank list again, as it did in the 2o13 report (where it was tightly followed by Norway and Switzerland). Since I am more involved in medical rather than mental issues of life (which with no doubt can affect the anticipated level of happiness more), I am rather interested in analysing the life expectancy, and the duration of a disease-free life. And here something funny becomes obvious: the leader in happiness, Denmark, is rather bad in terms of life expectancy (38th rank in the world with only 78.25 years as compared with the winning Japanese, who on average reach 86.2 years). Japan on the other hand was only on position 43 in terms of happiness, which places it in the lower half of all OECD countries.

It was not only me who got confused by this discrepancy. Last year the Danish minister for public health was interviewed about this issue. She should give an explanation why the Danish people have a lower life expectancy than many other (and according to the World Happiness Report 2013) and less happy European nations. She came to th conclusion that it must be a rather unhealthy life style in Denmark: high caloric and fat food, a lot of hard alcoholic drinks and widespread smoking. If she really has evidence that the Danish live such a unhealthy life-style, it would indeed explain a relative shorter life expectancy.

My concern is, however that their unhealthy life style somehow might be the reason for the anticipated happiness. Who knows, maybe they also do car races in urban areas or free style base jumping with an umbrella or other adrenalin boosting activities in their free time. They might all increase the degree of subjective happiness, and at the same time reduce the chance for a long life.

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