- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Score one for the smiley face guy.

The world is getting happier, according to the cumbersome but compelling World Values Survey released Monday by the National Science Foundation, which managed to track and quantify joy among 350,000 people in 97 countries over a quarter of century.

“The happiness index rose in an overwhelming majority of nations studied,” the study said.

“It’s a surprising finding,” said Ronald Inglehart, a University of Michigan political scientist who led the research.

Denmark is at the top of the list - with India, Ireland, Mexico and South Korea experiencing a “steeply rising” level of happiness in the survey that asked respondents to succinctly rate their subjective sense of well-being and life satisfaction.

Everyone was apparently happy to do so. The survey had an “exceptionally high” 97 percent response rate.

Zimbabwe, meanwhile, is in last place. Things aren’t so jovial in Armenia, Pakistan and Rwanda - among the last 19 nations on the roster. For them, national contentment flagged into the statistically negative zone.

Americans are in the comfortably warm and fuzzy upper levels. The U.S. ranked No. 16, behind Canada, Sweden, El Salvador and New Zealand but in front of Britain, Germany, France and Italy.

Go figure.

“Though by no means [the] happiest country in the world, from a global perspective, the U.S. looks pretty good,” Mr. Inglehart observed.

The happiest of the Middle Eastern countries is Saudi Arabia, at spot No. 26 - with the Iraqis the unhappiest, at 91. Israel is happier than Jordan, while Iranians are happier than Egyptians.

Elsewhere, Vietnam is more cheerful the Philippines, Russia more jovial than Georgia and Bosnians happier - by a little - than Croatians.

Some of the findings are a curious proof, perhaps, that the findings measured long-term trends rather than the troublesome issues du jour. For example, despite its inner political travails, Colombia is third on the list. Things must be fairly suitable in Guatemala as well, which is right behind the U.S. at No. 17. The promise of the Olympics notwithstanding, China languishes at No. 54, however.

On the whole, things are fairly acceptable around the planet due to consistent economic growth plus increased social tolerance and democratization over the study period, which stretched from 1981 to 2007.

America’s relatively newfound turmoil over terrorism, gasoline prices, the war in Iraq and economic uncertainties in recent years have taken a toll.

“Though happiness levels are rising in the world as a whole, the report comes at an interesting time for Americans, when recent public opinion polls report striking dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. affairs,” the survey said.

“Americans’ dissatisfaction with the country’s current direction pulls down their sense of subjective well-being. But this is partly offset by other factors,” said Mr. Inglehart. “The fact that Americans live in a free and tolerant society has more impact on happiness than economic prosperity or even additional income.”

The survey was published in the July issue of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Administrative and organizational costs for the research were funded by the National Science Foundation and the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation, though research teams from most nations who participated were financed primarily by local scientific foundations.

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