World Happiness—Gratitude, Grit & Volunteering

Well, also getting exercise, having been connected socially and having a pet. A big factor to the bad, lack of “proper digital connections.”

The 2021 World Happiness Report s put together by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network at Columbia University, directed by Jeffrey Sachs, with support from a number of foundations (and from illycaffè and Wall’s ice cream, pick your poison), and is now in data partnership with Gallup, relying heavily on their World Poll. The report found that in 2020, despite a 4% increase in worldwide deaths and attendant suffering, and any number of pandemic stresses, there has been “surprising resilience” in people’s ratings of their own lives. There was no overall change in the positive affect, although there was a 10% increase in those who reported they were worried or sad the prior day, and measures of anxiety.

The authors argue that in 2020 there was no choice between health and a successful economy: Asia/Pacific countries that controlled deaths did not show greater losses, and countries with the highest death rates has the greatest decreases in GDP, with an r at 0.34.
Using two sets of variables, one using demographics and exposures, median population age, whether the country is an island, and closeness to countries with heavy infections, the other cultural characteristics pre-pandemic. These variables explain almost half the differences in international outcomes.

Top listed of four factors supporting successful Covid strategies was confidence in public institutions. Their example, one third of the difference between Brazil’s 92 per 100,000 death rate and Singapore’s 1 per 100,000 was explained by differences in public trust. Meaning the difference between Brazil’s trust level, 0.11, and Singapore’s, 0.86, implies 36 more deaths in Brazil, a third of the actual difference.

Another was inequality, using the Gini coefficient: Twenty percent of the difference in death rates in Denmark and Mexico can be explained using income inequality as a proxy for public trust. And social trust, or benevolence, as measured by your belief that a lost wallet will be returned by a stranger, a neighbor or…a police officer, was associated with “far fewer deaths,” and the authors note is more important than income, employment and major health risks.

Lessons learned from SARS and other pandemics was also a factor, which gave East Asian countries a lead. But by the middle of the year it was clear that “you have to suppress the virus,” and yet the West opened up, inviting in a second wave as bad as the first.

And the fourth top-listed factor, was the government led by a woman?

The authors stress that “test, trace and isolate” can be effective whether citizens are more compliant, East Asia, or more “freedom-oriented,” Australia and New Zealand, and that morale improves when the government acts. North Atlantic assertions of “personal liberty,” and a demand for privacy reduced compliance, as did a “lack of sufficient scientific knowledge,” susceptibility to false information and fake news. But, for all of that, the U.S. ranked 62nd of 148, between Colombia and Nicaragua, on “Freedom to make life choices.” (Enough, but it’s of interest to see it written out that way in a factual report.) And worth skimming the graphs here.

Mental health deteriorated early on, especially among those already having more issues, women, young people, and the poor, which increased inequalities in mental health, but there was an improvement in average mental health, and the authors suggest the bright light now on mental health bodes well for better services so “urgently needed.”

In the US, workplace happiness declined before the federal emergency was declared in March, and then rebounded, but does that mean happier workers were more likely to keep their jobs, or they changed their reference groups, and those remaining employed may have been working from home and were less affected? “Purpose, achievement and learning” lost importance, but other drivers of well-being in the workplace—trust, support, inclusion—remained unchanged, suggesting to the authors that what works in normal times improves resilience in harder times.

Since 2006-08 the authors note a “huge reduction” in inequality of social welfare among countries. A big fall in one component, well-being, in India prevented well-being from becoming more equal, so the improvement in social welfare reflects more equality in life expectancy, driven by a “truly remarkable” increase in Sub-Saharan Africa.