Danes still the happiest, even if they won’t say hello at the grocery store

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As America’s Leading Source of News About the Danish EconomyTM, the Curious Capitalist is legally required to report this important information released Monday by the University of Michigan’s World Values Survey:

The results indicate that Denmark is the happiest nation in the world and Zimbabwe the unhappiest. The United States ranks 16th on the list, immediately after New Zealand.

Despite being just a teensy bit dour, the Danes are perennially high scorers on happiness surveys. My favorite explanation for this came in a study published in 2006 by researchers at the University of Southern Denmark: It’s not the great economy or the free health-care or the pickled herring; it’s the low expectations. As the NYT reported:

[O]n surveys, Danes continually report lower expectations for the year to come, compared with most other nations. And “year after year, they are pleasantly surprised to find that not everything is getting more rotten in the state of Denmark,” the paper concludes.

There’s one other possibility that I don’t think the University of Southern Denmark researchers explored, though. Puerto Rico is No. 2 on the happiness list, and I know from personal experience that large quantities of Danish packaged meat products are consumed there. I think it’s high time the Danish beef and pork industries sponsored an exhaustive study of the link between processed meat and personal satisfaction.

Another interesting result of the World Values Survey is that, on the whole, the people of the world have been getting happier (or at least saying they’re happier) since 1981. This has apparently been a surprise to researchers. Said Ron Inglehart, the University of Michigan political science professor who directs the survey:

Most earlier research has suggested that happiness levels are stable. Important events like winning the lottery or learning you have cancer can lead to short-term changes, but in the long run most previous research suggests that people and nations are stuck on a “hedonic treadmill.” The belief has been that no matter what happens or what we do, basic happiness levels are stable and don’t really change.