The Happiest Zombies

In the same vein as David's fascinating post below, here is a refreshingly accurate article on the relationship between wealth and self-reported happiness around the world from the New Scientist titled “Wealthy Nations Hold the Keys to Happiness.” The occasion of the article is the publication of a world map by Adrian White, a Ph.D. psychology student at the University of Leicester, that vividly pictures self-reported life satisfaction around the world. The relationship between wealth and the percentage of people who say they are happy leaps out pretty clearly.

According to the analysis, a country's happiness is closely related to its wealth, along with the health and education levels of its people. It is no surprise that people spending heavily on healthcare, such as US citizens, rank highly, says White, as this investment increases life expectancy and general wellbeing.

“There is a belief that capitalism leads to unhappy people,” he says. “However, when people are asked if they are happy with their lives, people in countries with good healthcare, a higher [earnings] per capita, and access to education were much more likely to report being happy.”


Large industrialised countries fared well in the new analysis, with the US and UK coming in at 23 and 41, respectively, out of 178 nations.

This stands in contrast with the recently released “Happy Planet Index” from the New Economics Foundation think tank, which placed Columbia and Honduras high up. The Happy Planet Index ranked each country according to the reported happiness level of its people divided by the amount of the world's resources they consume.

“In the west we have the tendency to be the 'worried well',” White says. Too true.

I like to emphasize that self-reported subjective life satisfaction is a far cry from objective well-being, which includes non-subjective factors like health, longevity, the development of basic human capacities, and more. Complaining about the misery of life under capitalism is a sport for privileged people who, thanks to capitalism, are doing so objectively well that they can spend their days doing things like, say, getting a Ph.D. in American Studies from Berkeley and writing books about how Zombie movies reflect the horror of capitalism.

Now, I think most of us can agree that even if capitalism does give us boneheaded essays on the anti-capitalist implications of shambling, undead brain-eaters, all this health, wealth, and happiness probably makes it a good deal anyway.

[Cross-posted from Cato@Liberty]

  • mfarmer

    Even if the intuition model is correct, reason is the primary tool to interpret all value-judgements, regardless whether the value-judements are learned or innate — emotions are lightning-quick responses to ingrained value-judgements but only reason can slow the process and re-evaluate in order to act appropriately to the response given the context or real-life situations in which action is required. Reason is far more than a rationalization of an initial intuition — it’s the faculty that’s constantly giving meaning and moral understanding. Reason doesn’t shut off emotions in order to act with pure rationality, if used properly, it enriches emotions to enable a person to act morally based on the information accessible at the time. Weakening the role of reason makes it more likely our shared intutions will be guided by the most influential political party according to its ideas of correct moral action.

  • Meng Bomin

    A discussion of the role of religion in politics was not fleshed out in this diavlog, but my impression is that Will’s views on religion are deeper than “ew, church is icky”. Straw men aren’t exactly productive discussion.

  • DMonteith

    There’s quite a bit more empirical evidence (i.e. mass murder) for the contention that religion is bad than there is for the proposition that gayness is bad. So there’s a difference. Also, choosing who and what to believe, while not exactly free of coercive social pressures, is a matter of choice in a way that sexual orientation is not. But, whatever. I’m surely just proving your point that atheism is a symptom of closed mindedness.

  • Sameer

    Look… religion makes truth claims… asserting the right to be gay without facing discrimination does not. Hence, religion is legitimately open to rational criticism and debate.. gayness, like being black, white, male, or female, is not. To criticize religious people is to criticize their ideas; to criticize gay people is to criticize their… I don’t know, right to exist?

  • JB

    There was a discussion of it. Specifically where Will mentioned his atheism and his antipathy for churchy conservatives.

    I just think Will’s liberaltarian project is influenced by stereo-types more than he might like to admit. He wants to hang around with liberals because he feels an affinity for them that he doesn’t feel for conservatives. That’s fine, but I think he might be surprised at the number of urban conservatives he would get along well with. There are a large number of liberal Republicans and conservatives who don’t care about red-blooded social issues, but are focused on economics. I know more than a few people who voted for McCain (or rather against Obama) and did so solely for economic reasons.