World is a happier place than it was before the financial crisis began

201202251832 Research company Ipsos asked 19,000 adults in 24 countries how happy they are. Turns out they are pretty happy, even (especially?) people in poor countries.

Some 77% of respondents now describe themselves as happy, up three points on 2007, the last year before the crisis. Fully 22% (up from 20%) describe themselves as very happy—a more important measure, says Ipsos’s John Wright, since whenever three-quarters of people agree on anything, “you need to pay attention to intensity in the results."

Economist: A poll contradicts what we thought we knew about income and happiness (Via Neatorama)


  1. 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed preferred brand X toothpaste*

    * That we chose to only survey those we thought would choose brand X does not cloud the results.  Thank you, come again.

      1. I think the author of this book would disagree with you.  First figure out what you want your research to say.  Second, figure out how to get it to say it.  I’m not saying that that’s what happened here, just that it is very possible and very easy to get whatever numbers you want whenever you want them. 

        I’ve never been sure why so many people automagically give statisticians the benefit of the doubt and assume – without seeing how they conducted their studies – that their results have any validity.

        1. The need for a numerological explanation, I think. Besides, capitalism relies almost exclusively on a semblance of information for its justification and no knowledge, so this survey is par for the course really. Automagically?

        2. And Ipsos’ incentive for fudging stats to get particular happiness levels for particular countries is…what, exactly?

          Tin foil really isn’t your colour.

          1. Hey, we all see the plots we want. The numerology part was a joke (with serious intent). Statistics is the mathematical analysis of data. The analysis of events creates different problems with variables than states of mind and is more easily defined statistically. This seems like pseudo-science to me as there are problems of semantics and subjectivity beyond the reach of statistics to define. Of course the belief in statistics like the belief in God can be perverted towards nefarious ends.

          2. Titanium Foil for me…all the way.

            Sources for the graph: Ipsos (conducted the study); IMF (paid for it).  IMF = International Monetary Fund.  IMF= the people screwing you over.  IMF = the .01%.  IMF = the people wanting everyone to believe that everyone else in the world are just fine with being told to bend over and take one for the IMF team.

            So, yeah, I’m skeptical of this chart.  

          3. @boingboing-4fceec4318ea47d3828f6488c5fa12d8:disqus Wow.  I just…wow.  Let’s recap your little conspiracy theory:  the IMF (a body comprising almost the entire UN that has operated for almost 70 years) is suddenly so desperately afraid of – who, exactly? diminishing its mandate that it pays a reputable firm to fake a happiness study.
            I was talking to Wayne Swan the other day.  “Wayne,” I said, “you must be shitting yourself the IMF could be toppled any day now.  I mean, the game’s up, right?”

            “Grue,’ he said, “don’t worry about it, mate.  We’ve got a survey.  It’s all under control.”  And then he gave me the secret IMF handshake, and we put twenty bucks through the Orbital Mind Control Lasers for laughs.

        3.  Because it’s easy.  It’s easy to just assume authority is correct without challenging it.  It’s almost automatic.  If someone tells me something as if they know what they’re talking about, my default response is to listen, and to believe.  That this is unreasonable, and dangerously stupid of me, is besides the point.  It’s a fact.  And it has to be dealt with, somehow. 

          1. It’s better than the alternative which is unfortunately more common — that everyone is their own expert — which is obviously untrue. Yes, in theory it would nice if everyone was educated enough to make their own decisions on every subject. But they just aren’t. Nor can they be, given a human lifespan.

      2. 9 out of 10 dentists surveyed preferred Brand X toothpaste and a check to other brands and no check.

        4 out 5 dentists surveyed preferred Brand X to my foot in their ass. That last dentist just smiled, so I left in a hurry.

  2. Back in the early-mid nineties, a reporter from Spin Magazine was interviewing the girls of Japanese band Shonen Knife:
    – “Do you like Nirvana?”
    – “Yes we are very happy!”

  3. whhhy we’re so much happier now that we ought to thank: Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, JPMorgan Chase,  hell, we ought to pay them for this unusual kindness to us all… oh wait, i believe we already have.

  4. Too funny.  “Yes unchecked capitalism causes periodic world economic crises, but those crises make us *happy*!”  The Economist is no better than the Soviets’ Pravda.

      1. Perhaps we should also ask whether what qualifies as being “happy” is the same for all the people in the study…? 

        1. Precisely. I suspect the ‘real’ question being asked/answered is ‘Since the financial crisis began do you feel less economic pressure (to compete)?’ If they had asked specifically ‘How would you rate your enjoyment of music to have improved since the financial crisis began?’ I suspect a different answer and no survey. It all seems pretty meaningless except for those of us who are constitutionally guaranteed happiness, perhaps.

          1. John Henry Hancock  only put his name to a promise of the Pursuit of Happiness. The attainment of Happiness itself was not guaranteed.

          2. Something along the lines of, “Are you very happy, rather happy, not very happy, or not happy at all”.

            Erm … it’s at the top of the page, just above the chart.


    1.  Pravda means “Truth” in Russian. Izvyestia means “News”. There used to  be a saying in Russia “There is no news in the Truth, and no truth in the News” :P

  5. Well, in my case, it turns out I spent a large percentage of my income on commuting, takeout food, daycare, and so on.  Being out of a job hasn’t had a huge impact on my family’s income, and since I’m not at work all hours caring for an office of 7-to-10-year-old computers (yes, really) I get to see more of my family.  I know that sounds like hell to some people, but those people are goddamned weird.

  6. Maybe language and cultural differences applied some biases on this survey. Maybe we shouldn’t trust the IMF for this sort of data. Not necessarily, but maybe.

    Definitely (not maybe) we should have a measure of the statistical significance of a 0.03 increase of any figure from an unknown sample size to a sample size of 19,000 (not that large, all things considered).

          1.  Well, if the responses aren’t precise, one trusts that they’ll be delivered promptly at least.

      1. Also: language issues. While many languages have a more or less canonical equivalent to “happy,” the nuances of those words can vary greatly from language to language and run the gamut from “not unhappy” to “absolute bliss.” Not sure how you’d control for that.

        1. Not even from language to language but from region to region, too.  A Southern catholic German Bavarian will surely describe his situation differently from say, a Northern protestant German Frisian.

          And it gets worse when you get across languages *and* cultures   – Americans will use „love“ when a German will  usually user „like“, even though bad dubbing and blunt advertising (think McDonald’s) tries to establish another user.  

          1. Random factoid: McDonald’s Austria uses the original English slogan, McDonald’s Germany uses a (very literally) translated version.

          2. Of course a Southern Catholic German Bavarian will surely describe his situation
            differently from say, a Northern Protestant German Frisian, because the Catholic isn’t going to burn in Hell for all eternity.

    1.  “I was ecstatic when I saw that my neighbor who complained to the neighborhood association about my Camaro up on cement blocks in my front yard had been foreclosed on.”

  7. Am I really the first person here to point out that correlation doesn’t equal causation? Lots of other things have happened in five years. The question asked was not “Are you happier because of the financial crisis?”, so we really don’t know why happiness increased. Maybe a bunch of people are happier because they have iPhones and iPads. 

  8. I think this is a world-class case of schadenfreude. Of course you’re happier in poorer countries–which saw less of a relative decline in GDP as a whole than richer countries–when you see the rich boys take it on the chin.

    1. Poor people don’t see that happen, and hearing about people who could have their fortunes decimated, yet still live as kings compared to the poor, does not seem so grand to them. Especially when it is also reported that those many see a sthe cause continue unabated.

  9. Per capita GDP means nothing without a number to show us economic trends across, say, 10 years. Show us per capita GDP 10 years ago.

    1. I disagree, GDP per capita is one of the most important economic indicators and is immensely useful for all kinds of purposes, including this one.

      1. We’re on the same page as far as importance of GDP. My point is that we need to see economic trends for each country before we can believe per capita GDP relates to happiness at all. If ALL of these countries are on a substantial downtrend, then yes, it’s interesting. But if no clear economic pattern can be found, then per capita GDP is irrelevant.

  10. IMHO generally the poor countries (like Brazil) improved economically during the world crisis, where in the rich countries people did not fall bellow poverty line, so the net effect was positive for all…

    1. “in the rich countries people did not fall below poverty line”

      Because those countries have generally been able to float enough debt to keep spending.  We’ll see how their kids answer this poll when the bill comes due.

      1. Having been at various times way way above that line and so far below it that it seemed nonexistent (It’s too cold tonight… I should bury myself in the sod and mouldy leaves in this thicket so that  I sleep comfortably kind of  poor) , previously holding rank varying between illegal immigrant worker to GM of a midsize company to owner of successful bizness now, that poll is meaningless and trite. Money and happiness have almost no correlation and if there is causal connection it is only because it makes you unhappy to have someone kill you for money matters.

        1.  If anything your anecdote proves the poll isn’t meaningless and trite – if money and happiness are not related, why would a financial crisis affect peoples’ happiness?

    2. There are countries where people aren’t below the poverty line?  People are living in tent camps in the US and the UK.

  11. “A poll contradicts what we thought we knew about income and happiness”
    I’m not sure what The Economist thought they knew about income and happiness, but speaking for myself, I’ve known for quite a while the two don’t have to correlate.
    I’m far from rich, but I doubt I would be a lot happier if I were.  And I’ve seen that same sentiment with people I’ve met elswhere in the world too.

  12. Sadly happiness research is fraught with deep limitations, starting with the inability to translate the word “happy” without cultural shifts. 

    Even so, the link between happiness and income has been studied before. See “Easterlin paradox” on wikipedia (showing a link between happiness and absolute income, unlike Easterlin’s study suggested). How does this new data fit in?

    Also, it seems easy to dismiss the conclusion as an arbitrary interpretation and wishful thinking. Many stories can be fit on such simple data (a long time series is a bit better, but still hardly a slam dunk either way). What I do know: people don’t just pursue happiness (otherwise we’d probably be on cocaine or something). Since they demonstrate they pursue income too, that income has value to them (security for one). 

    EDIT: mistake above, wikipedia shows latest Easterlin study (2010) still reaches same paradox, although alternative studies show the opposite result.

  13. … it also has a lot to do with cultural postures towards what is happiness. If you ask a north african person if everything’s allright they will almost always answer “yes” and smile, no matter what. Inversely if you ask a portuguese or spanish the same thing they will always say “so and so” and proceed to enumerate all their illnessess, their trouble-maker children, their sick parents and general lack of misfortune.

    1. Indonesia, Thailand, Burma (or whatever), Japan = Places where no one I met would admit anything but happiness

      US = Places where no one I met would admit to being happy at all

      Canada, Mexico = about half n half

      1. Also don’t forget Russia, where no one admits to being happy (from what I heard).

        P.S., Does US have a case of humblebrag, or do we have real trouble? Probably the latter. :(

    2. Of course. The question is located within a general economic discourse with cultural norms defining the tenor of that discourse.

  14. I wonder how results of polls like these track against the prevalence of pharmaceutical anti-depressants.

  15. I am skeptical of the supposed IMF connection.  (Not only do I not see where you’re getting that from, I don’t think the IMF cares enough about what you think to fund slanted surveys in the  hopes of tilting your opinion.  They don’t have to care what you think.)

    However, I think what’s missing from the survey picture is the question of how acceptable it is to express feelings of happiness or unhappiness in different cultures. That surely varies and it’s surely affecting the results. 

    If in Brazil, for the sake of argument, one just mustn’t admit to feeling unhappy, then people will surely respond as more happy than elsewhere whether or not they feel happier.  That doesn’t mean the people of Indonesia or Brazil or Mexico or wherever are necessarily less happy than they appear here, but it makes it questionable to draw any kind of broad conclusions from the survey.  (I wish I could, since it fits some of my assumptions  about happiness.)

  16. The validity of this poll has nothing to with the IMF, the Illiminati, or the fire breathing unicorn on screen right. 

    I studied this stuff rather extensively in college. This poll is highly suspect because it relies on a self-report. The Economist article correctly identified that pitfall, but stopped there, noting the figures had been stable, so it was probably OK.

    Well, that’s total bull hockey. Lots of things are stable but do not measure what you think they are measuring. Stability and accuracy are two different things. This poll just measures what people say when asked how happy they are (over the phone by a stranger who called out of the blue). 

    In this case, measuring happiness is incredibly difficult. Any serious researcher would construct a composite measure made up of many different data points. One of which would be the self report. These would be cross-checked internally to check the validity of both the concepts and the answers. The best researchers will actually ask a question twice, to see how it moves. For example, if you say you voted in the last Presidential election but can’t recall which candidates ran, you’re probably lying. 

    Most of the stuff that people emphasize regarding polls — margin of error, etc. — is unimportant. What is important is the random sample generation (often done wrong), and the construction of the measures. On the latter point, this poll should not be considered valid in any way. 

  17. For a breakdown of some specifics of what’s wrong with this poll, see this article:

    Case in point: “In April 2007, the first month of the survey, China’s “total happiness” was 59%. The next month it rose to 92%. Then it drops back to mid-50s for two months and then for the middle of the survey period it’s in the 80s and then drops to the 70s, and is at 78% in November 2011. Something is wrong here.”

  18. Why are the Koreans so sad?

    Their cuisine is tasty, you would think that might cheer folks.  Does fermented cabbage affect endorphin production?

     Is it the Partition?  Having a lunatic on your border with missiles pointed at your bedroom might be a downer, granted.

    But less than half as happy as people in Saudi Arabia?  Really?  No pretty ladies to look at, no booze, hot as shit, sand…Korea gets hot in summer, but come on!

    I’ve been to Seoul: people seemed (as far as I could tell) fairly happy, as well as exceedingly kind.  Is the rest of the country a horrible Gehenna with open pits and wailing?

    (To be fair, never visited Riyadh: I’m sure if A: you are a man, B: you are a Wahabite and C. you are a member of the House of Saud; the Arabian Peninsula is the place to be…)

    Somehow, I bet the women there who would like a drivers license were not consulted…

  19. I think it’s important to me personally at least to find ways to be happy, regardless of my financial situation- precisely because my financial situation is so precarious.  And even if it were “stable,” it STILL wouldn’t be enough, because it’s essentially unstable because of the whole mortality thing (who decided THAT was a good idea…seriously).  So, like, I have to find ways of being happy that embrace the reality of my own decadence, I guess; my own fundamental instability.  Hence, I like Buddhism.  And love.  In general.  (I like other stuff too, but in this context, these are pretty paramount.)  

  20.  Not decadence, sorry; I mean, like, I just meant the instability of my situation.  And I guess I feel that we as a society should be able to do that as well; like, together.  We should grow closer to each other through our shared instability and vulnerability.  I know I am veering slightly away from economics and politics and philosphy and moving more towards mushy gushy stuff, but what can I say, I think that’s where the answer is.  (Note: I THINK that’s where the answer is.  As well as feeling like it is.) 

  21. Focusing on the pursuit of happiness is distracting you from the extraction of your life and liberty is his point. IF money doesn’t equal happy, THEN you can do with less money.
    It’s distraction, pointing at your pursuit of happiness, while taking your life and liberty, which can be more closely intertwined with financial matters.
    Like when the bankster forecloses on your home while reminding you to value your family (and move them out)

  22. And NK got 110% Very Happy response.

    Just saying that perhaps some of those countries that A) actively spy on their people, and B) have a history of throwing you in jail for a tweet, or a facebook post, might just be smiling as though their lives depended on it…

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