Today the third World Happiness Report was released and America has come up short again. The report, which analyzes well-being through measures such as life expectancy, per capita incomes and perceptions of corruption, ranked the land of opportunity just 15th.

The results are surprising but we shouldn’t get mad. The report shows some key areas for improvement that don’t arise when looking at traditional measures we associate with happiness. We should take the feedback as a learning opportunity and not a failure. Our country is still great (and beats all others in one key metric, shown below) but we can always do better.

More countries, such as the United Kingdom, are looking at broader indicators, beyond GDP, to track their progress and inform policy decisions. The report, released Thursday, is edited by John Helliwell, professor emeritus of economics at University of British Columbia, Richard Layard, professor at the London School of Economics and Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute.

“We are encouraged that more and more governments around the world are listening and responding with policies that put well-being first,” said Prof. Helliwell. “Countries with strong social and institutional capital not only support greater well-being, but are more resilient to social and economic crises.”

Given the top countries are Scandinavian, not quite comparable to our country, Canada provides the most similar counterpart from which to measure ourself.

Canada has moved up a notch from its last report in 2013. Compared to its southern neighbour, “the U.S. is higher on GDP per capita, but Canada is higher on all five of the remaining variables: healthy life expectancy, social support, corruption, generosity, and freedom to make life choices,” noted Prof. Helliwell. “The net effect of the latter is much larger than the former, putting Canada significantly higher than the U.S.”

These areas for improvement are useful as we decide the future direction of our country. Should we support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who seem to operate with impunity from the rules that govern our country?

Should we continually be re-hashing personal freedom issues like abortion and medical marijuana or allow people to make their own decisions?

And should we allow big corporations to dictate terms to the population on key issues like drug patents, international trade agreements and even new laws?

It seems we need to leverage our superior productivity, a huge advantage relative to the other countries in the top 25, and catch up with the rest of the world on the other factors. The good news is we’re probably further ahead than the report indicates. With medical marijuana reform sweeping the nation it likely signifies a trend towards more personal decision making and less ‘father knows best’ state interference.


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