Global happiness survey suggests Canadians are a happy bunch, compared with other countries

A young boy shows off his tee-shirt as he watches the annual Canada Day parade in Montreal, Monday, July 1, 20 …When it comes to happiness, Canadians' cups do not quite runneth over but they're pretty much filled to the brim compared with other countries.

A United Nations-sponsored survey puts Canada in sixth place when it comes to global happiness, CBC News reports.

Not surprisingly, Scandinavian countries dominate the top five, with Denmark No. 1, Norway second (Anders Breivik clearly an outlier), followed by Switzerland (all that chocolate and fine watches, presumably), the Netherlands and Sweden.

For Canadians, we have bragging rights over the United States, which ranked 17th. And if you must know, the West African countries of Benin and Togo finished last, behind war-torn countries such as Congo and Syria.

The details are contained in the UN Sustainable Development Research Initiative's Happiness Report, released Monday.

[ Related: Are Canadians considerably happier than Americans? ]

But before you get too smug about the national well being, I should point out that Canada's ranking in fact has slipped. It was fifth in last year's report, which also had Denmark and Norway at the top.

Finland was third but has slipped to seventh. The United States fell even further — it was in 11th place in the 2012 rankings release in April of that year, according to a CBC News report.

But hey, glass half full, globally speaking

Report co-author John Helliwell, professor emeritus of economics at the University of British Columbia, says the world overall is getting happier.

"One thing that struck me this time is that of the 150 countries we look at — and we're measuring a period roughly from 2005 to 2010 — is how many had significant increases or decreases — 60 had big increases but 40 had a big decrease," Helliwell told CBC News.

The rankings are derived largely from results of the Gallup World Poll, which asks respondents to rate their happiness on a scale of zero to 10, CBC News said. The world average this year was 5.1, while Canadians on average rated their happiness at 7.48, the blissful Danes at 7.69 and those miserable Togolese pegged their happiness level at 2.94.

The report's authors say policymakers should be paying more attention to the importance of happiness.

“There is now a rising worldwide demand that policy be more closely aligned with what really matters to people as they themselves characterize their well-being,” said Prof. Jeffery Sachs director of Columbia University's Earth Institute.

“More and more world leaders are talking about the importance of well-being as a guide for their nations and the world. The World Happiness Report 2013 offers rich evidence that the systematic measurement and analysis of happiness can teach us a lot about ways to improve the world’s well-being and sustainable development.”

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has a Gross National Happiness Index, with its own commission mandated to incorporate the GNHI into planning and implementing government policies.

[ Related: Should we start measuring Gross National Happiness? ]

If the idea of a happiness ranking seems a little too New Age, the report suggests it has a solid foundation.

CBC News noted the report's authors say the differences in perceived happiness largely correlate with six factors: GDP per capita, life expectancy, perceived national corruption, freedom to make life choices and having to rely on when things get tough.

Those things apparently apply in Denmark, where there is not much economic disparity and a surprising amount of trust in government.

"It's a very equal country," Danish resident Jens Norlem told CBC News. "There's not a lot of very rich people and there's not a lot of very poor people. There's a very big group of the middle class. And people have a high level of education, so people participate very much in elections and stuff like that."

"You feel that you have confidence in the system — in the governmental system and in other people also. It's a very typical thing here that if you walk up to people in the street and ask them a question, they'll try to help. They wouldn't think, 'Who is this person coming up to me? He's probably trying to rob me.' "

Contrast that with Canada, where people have become very cynical about government, voting rates are falling and in a lot of places we're leery of interacting with strangers on the street.

[ Full story: Canada ranks 6th in global happiness survey ]

But at least we're not likely to get shot if we do. The Wall Street Journal last week ran a column written by a sem-iretired Texas woman who with her husband spends the summer months in Montreal.

Amid warm praise for the city's European flavour and cultural delights was this gem:

"On balance, the benefits far outweigh any shortcomings. Take crime—or the lack thereof. It takes a while to stop looking over your shoulder at night while walking, but we don't do it anymore."

Explains a lot, doesn't it?