How happy is Iceland?

Highest birth rate in Europe + highest divorce rate + highest
percentage of women working outside the home = the best country in the
world in which to live…Iceland, the block of sub-Arctic lava to which these statistics apply,
tops the latest table of the United Nations Development Programme’s
(UNDP) Human Development Index rankings, meaning that as a society and
as an economy – in terms of wealth, health and education – they are
champions of the world.

Here is much more, interesting throughout, and I have been an admirer since I visited the country in the mid 1990s.  The author emphasizes that Icelandic women have kids when they want to, often at young ages, and they accept that the father may not be around much but the whole family steps in to help out.

I was wondering whether the proclivity of Icelanders to leave their country (many are highly educated and speak fluent English and thus pursue opportunities elsewhere) somehow counts against these happiness claims.  But oddly I think not.  In part it is their intelligence and balance that makes them want to explore other locales.  In percentage terms, hardly any Japanese leave Japan but this counts against the happiness of the country rather than for it.  Country-specific capabilities can in the long run be stunting or reflect stuntedness.

I’ve not yet thought through what this means for the economists’ tendency to use revealed preference as a measure of value.  There are perhaps two margins of rejecting: the people who are not very good at enjoying something or not able to enjoy it because it is bad, and the people who are very good at enjoying something wonderful and thus wish to build upon that strength and move on to something else.

It is perhaps a Buddhist idea to suggest that the happiest country in the world is a totally empty one.

Pointers are from Seth Roberts and Nadav Manham.


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