A high grade in happiness doesn’t mean more “smiles,” but people’s overall well-being.
By Vladimir Vásquez (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – The 2017 report from the United Nations, headed by economist Jeffrey Sachs, has pronounced Nicaragua #43 among the happiest countries in the world. The report measured well-being in 155 countries during the previous year.
The new ranking means that the Central American country rose five points compared with last year’s report that involved 157 total countries.
Contrary to what the name suggests, the happiness report doesn’t measure the volume of smiles in a country, but instead compiles data on a combination of diverse factors – per capita gross national product, social supports, life expectancy, freedom to make choices, generosity and perceived corruption.
Nicaragua received 6.071 points in the 2017 report and is considered the country that had the biggest improvement compared to all other countries analyzed. That improvement was represented by an increase of 1.364 points, compared with the score of 5.992 that it was given in 2016.
To Juan Sebastián Chamorro, executive director of the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (Funides), the indicators point to significant gains that Nicaragua has made, for example in life expectancy which increased 1.8 years between 2010 and 2015. Currently, this means that Nicaraguans can aspire to living an average of 75.8 years.
According to Chamorro, social support also figures large in the evaluation process. “If you have a problem here in Nicaragua, you can seek support from a family member, neighbor or friend,” explains the Funides director.
In terms of that criteria, the Latin American countries do better than the Europeans, for example. However, none of the Latin American countries appear in the top ten spots. Norway holds first place with 7.537 points; Denmark in second place with 7.522; and Iceland in third place with 7.504.
If we compare this with the 2016 report, those three countries changed position considerably: that year Denmark held first place, followed by Switzerland and Iceland.
At the bottom of the 2017 rankings there’s Tanzania in 153rd place with 3.349 points; Burundi in 154th place with 2.905 points; and the Central African Republic with 2.693.
Looking just at Latin America, the highest place is held by Costa Rica, #12 with 7.079 points. Chile is in 20th place with 6.652, and Brazil in 22nd place with 6.635. The Latin American countries ranked lowest in the report are Honduras in 91st place with 5.181 points, Venezuela in 82nd place with 5.250, and Paraguay with 5.493.
Report should be taken seriously
The economist feels that the report should be taken seriously. Although the name refers to happiness, what it really measures is the well-being of the people. Further, it offers a detailed look at the basis of this, providing a means of analysis beyond just the Gross National Product, the traditional yardstick of economists.
“The point of the report is to look for a better quality of life for people,” Chamorro details. Still, for sociologist Cirilo Otero the happiness report is a study loaded with “interpretation,” since he feels that people don’t display their dissatisfaction publicly because it’s not considered acceptable in modern society.
“The happiness index is structured more towards the developed countries,” the sociologist believes. He added that even though people might see their income as good at the moment, they’re not visualizing the economic picture down the road.
“So – people have enough to eat, get around and go out to parks and entertainment. That’s happiness?” Otero questioned.
In addition, he compares the happiness index with the Human Development Index (HDI) that the United Nations Development Program published the same week of March 20. In the latter, Nicaragua maintained its improvement, although at a slower pace.
The Human Development Index situates Nicaragua as #124 out of 188 countries evaluated. That was an advance of one place in comparison with 2016 when the country was #125.
Although the two reports use different criteria, there are some categories where the data can be compared, Chamorro explains.
The HDI gave Nicaragua 0.645 points in the 2016 report, while in the 2015 report the country was evaluated at 0.631 points.
According to the UN classification, Nicaragua has diminished the general inequality and the gender inequality, while improving aspects of gender development and multidimensional poverty.
In this report, Norway, Australia and Switzerland hold the top three places, while the bottom three are occupied by Chad in Central Africa at #186 with 0.396 points; Niger at #187 with 0.353; and in last place the Central African Republic with 0.352 points.
The view from the street
Confidencial conducted an opinion poll among passers-by in the street to find out what people think about their own happiness.
The query was: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy do you feel?”
Here are some of the responses:
“I give it an 8 because we’re progressing slowly, but we are progressing in terms of the economy and employment,” responded María Elena Solórzano, a seamstress who assures that she’s happy because her children have work and so does she.
Nancy Patricia de Leiva, a housewife, also assured that she feels happy because “I’m happy for my children. They’re the ones who give me the energy to move forward.”
“I feel very happy. The economy’s doing better, and the only thing left is to resolve the workers’ salaries so that we’re happier,” expressed Edgar Cabrera, who works in a transportation cooperative located at the bus terminal in the Israel Lewites market.
Generally, people affirmed that they feel happy about aspects of their families and indicated that economically they’re not doing so badly.
Psychologist Alberto Sánchez doesn’t give a lot of credibility to the Happiness Report. It’s hard for him to believe that the criteria used in this type of study, as applied to Nicaragua, reflects the existence of such a happy country.
For Sánchez, if we speak of things like the stress level or the capacity that still exists in Nicaragua to spend time with our family members, then the country indeed merits their 43rd place on the index, but not if we use UN’s actual criteria.
“We’re not doing well in terms of corruption,” Sánchez states. On this point, he coincides with Chamorro, who assures that in the surveys that Funides has conducted, there’s a fairly high perception of corruption.
Nonetheless, in the Happiness Report Nicaragua has acceptable scores in the area of people’s perception of corruption in their country. Although the organization doesn’t offer details about the exact scoring of this criteria, it’s reflected in a very short bar on the graph.
“We don’t know how the response [regarding corruption] was weighted, but we do know from the surveys we’ve done in Funides for example, that the topic of corruption appears as an important day-to-day issue for the business community,” Chamorro explains.
Otero doesn’t think that the two studies are contradictory, but does emphasize that each one was carried out using different questions. He notes that the HDI report goes much deeper than the Happiness Report that has had five different yearly editions.
In addition, for the sociologist, Nicaragua is very exposed to “geopolitical geographical and social” vulnerabilities which could worsen the situations for its citizens in the medium term.
Otero also explains that this type of reports carries the risk of having international organizations decide to redirect their aid money towards other countries that have greater necessities or that appear lower in the happiness index.
To Chamorro, the indications in the Happiness Report serve to measure the problems and advances that the country has had.
“It should be read in a more integral and critical light, regarding what aspects should be taken into account,” Chamorro concludes.