The South Asian Kingdom of Bhutan has an extraordinary goal: It wants to achieve the highest possible level of happiness among its inhabitants. It maintains its own ministry for this purpose and measures its citizens’ well-being according to what they refer to as “Gross National Happiness.” Yet, despite all of the government’s efforts, the Bhutanese are reportedly anything but happy. In fact, Bhutan consistently ranks in the lowest tier of the annual World Happiness Report.
So how does it happen that people in one country are happier than those in others? What is the correlation between happiness, well-being, and democracy? And can we do something to work on both our own happiness and our society? Dean of WHU Professor Markus Rudolf posed such questions during his speech “Democracy, Freedom, and Economic Prosperity in Times of Crisis,” given last Thursday evening as part of Democracy Week in Koblenz. Given such recent turbulent times, including the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Rudolf, a mathematician and statistician, was tapping into something timely—evinced by the packed crowd at the auditorium on WHU’s campus in Vallendar.
With his analysis, which considered data from the 2022 World Happiness Report and other sources, the Dean came to some conclusions, some of which surprised the audience and some of which made them laugh: Working little makes people happy. Protestant societies are happier than others. And money can have an effect on our happiness. The more money a person has, the happier they tend to be—but only up to an annual income of 64,000€. According to one study conducted by Dr. Daniel Kahneman, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, and Dr. Angus Deaton, life satisfaction reaches a limit around that salary bracket and does not increase, even if the money does.
That being said, the most important conclusion drawn from the analysis was that democratic societies are happier than their counterparts. “It’s an incredible privilege to live in a democracy,” said Professor Rudolf. And, he mentioned, that Germany has to put in a little effort to make sure its own society stays one. According to the 2022 Democracy Index published by British publication The Economist, Germany currently places at #15 out of #21 countries considered to be full democracies. In short, there is some room to move upward. At the end of the evening, and much discussion, one thing was clear: Happiness is subject and dependent on a variety of factors. And one of the most important is democracy. “It makes us happy—and that’s why we need to work on it,” concluded Professor Rudolf.