John William Tuohy lives in Washington DC

The 20 happiest countries in the world

Melissa Breyer (@MelissaBreyer)

The World Happiness Report 2015 takes a look at well-being for the good of social progress and public policy.
It’s possible that future cultural critics will look back on this era and call it the List Age. We manage to organize full articles into numbered bullet points; there are lists and more lists and many are banal at best. (Full disclosure: I am a chronic listicle writer!) But sometimes lists are important and have ramifications far beyond the trivial pleasure of ranking things. I'd say the World Happiness Report falls into that camp.
The first World Happiness Report was published in support of the 2012 United Nations High Level Meeting on Happiness and Well-Being, which was itself in response to the July 2011 Resolution of the UN General Assembly inviting countries to measure the happiness of their people and to use this to help drive their public policies. Imagine, governments taking into consideration the well-being of their constituents rather than things like money and power. What a concept.
With the publication of the 172-page World Happiness Report 2015, which is the third of the series, the case is further strengthened that well-being should be an essential factor in how the world measures its economic and social development. It digs deep into six key factors in determining who the happy people are, according to the report: GDP per capita; healthy years of life expectancy; social support (as measured by having someone to count on in times of trouble); trust (as measured by a perceived absence of corruption in government and business); perceived freedom to make life decisions; and generosity (as measured by recent donations, adjusted for differences in income).
"To build a better world requires that decision-makers give a central role to the happiness criterion in decision-making at every level, requiring changes both in how outcomes are evaluated and in how policies are designed and delivered," notes the report. "Rhetoric about happiness is not enough."

That said, the following countries landed in the top 20 positions:

1. Switzerland
2. Iceland
3. Denmark
4. Norway
5. Canada
6. Finland
7. Netherlands
8. Sweden
9. New Zealand
10. Australia
11. Israel
12. Costa Rica
13. Austria
14. Mexico
15. United States
16. Brazil
17. Luxembourg
18. Ireland
19. Belgium
20. United Arab Emirates

And rounding out the bottom of the list? In positions 154 to 158: Rwanda, Benin, Syria, Burundi and Togo.
The report is published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and is edited by Professor John F. Helliwell, of the University of British Columbia and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research; Lord Richard Layard, Director of the Well-Being Programme at LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance; and Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Director of the SDSN, and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General.

For the full report and ranking of all 158 countries included, visit unsdsn.org

Enough bull

This incredible photo marks the end of Matador Torero Alvaro Munera’s career. He collapsed in remorse mid-fight when he realized he was having to prompt this otherwise gentle beast to fight. He went on to become an avid opponent of bullfights. Even grievously wounded by picadors, he did not attack this man.
Torrero Munera is quoted as saying of this moment: “And suddenly, I looked at the bull. He had this innocence that all animals have in their eyes, and he looked at me with this pleading. It was like a cry for justice, deep down inside of me. I describe it as being like a prayer - because if one confesses, it is hoped, that one is forgiven. I felt like the worst shit on earth.”

A bipartisan proposal to make a universal basic income a reality in America

Jeff Spross

 A universal basic income (UBI) — in which the government would deposit a check in your bank account every month — has become something of a cause du jour among many on the left.
Its merits are many and varied. It would reduce poverty, but would be less politically vulnerable to cuts than other safety net programs because it isn't means-tested. Like food stamps and such, it isn't tied to work, so it wouldraise workers' bargaining power and thus their wages. Finally, by giving families some economic breathing room, it would roll back some of the market's encroachments into family and community life — for instance, a UBI would probably lead to a lot more meals cooked and eaten at home.
Still, a UBI remains a pretty outlandish idea in the context of American politics. And the folks on the right who kinda-sorta support it mainly see it as a way to do away with other aspects of the welfare state.
If a UBI is going to become a reality, its supporters will have to get a little creative in their political strategy.
Over at Vox, Dylan Matthews recently laid out the start of such a strategy: Among portions of the GOP and the conservative movement there's been growing enthusiasm for the "FairTax" — a 30 percent national sales tax to replace all other taxes. But sales taxes are regressive — the poor spend more of their income on consumption and basic necessities, so the tax hits them comparatively harder. So the FairTax plan includes a check from the government that compensates every household for whatever sales tax they'd pay on consumption below the poverty threshold.
For example, based on federal poverty guidelines, the FairTax scheme calculates that a two-parent family of four at the poverty level would spend $31,020. Due to somecomplicated math, a 30 percent sales tax rate is equivalent to a 23 percent income tax rate, so the FairTax would send the family back 23 percent of that $31,020 — $7,135.
The FairTax's fans insist on calling this a tax rebate (or "prebate") for rhetorical purposes. But as Matthews points out, it's literally a UBI as well. If you're compensating people for consumption spending, you might as well be compensating them for breathing. Everyone gets it, no one has to be employed to get it, and it comes in 12 monthly installments. It's a UBI by the backdoor.
But we're not out of the woods yet. Replacing all taxes with a national sales tax is itself a radically outlandish idea. And not a good one; while most European countries have more regressive tax systems than the U.S., they rely on a mix of income taxes, payroll taxes, and consumption taxes. So the FairTax would outdo them all in terms of burdening the poor, and all to fund a social safety net that is far skimpier than the European models.
But we could replace a part of the U.S. tax system. Namely, the payroll tax.
It's basically the worst possible species of tax. The payroll tax is actually just another income tax, but applied at a flat rate without the progressive brackets, making it regressive in the same way a national sales tax would be. Moreover America's payroll tax is capped, so the income you earn above a certain level isn't taxed. With a national sales tax, by contrast, no matter how much money you make or how big your expenditures are, you'll still pay the tax on them.
Moreover, sales taxes hit consumption, but payroll taxes hit employment — they tax job creation. In a comparison of different Western countries' tax mixes, economist Lane Kenworthy found that different combinations of payroll taxes, consumption taxes, and income taxes had about the same effect on economic growth rates. But a heavier reliance on payroll taxes was associated with a pretty significant drop in employment rates.
 (Graph courtesy Progress for the Poor, by Lane Kenworth, Oxford University Press, 2011)
Access to work is, obviously, one of the key avenues by which economic growth actually makes its way to everyday people. And a decline in how much work the lower class can access over the last few decades has been a major contributor to America's stagnant incomes.
There are caveats: The effect Kenworthy found is diluted if you control for other surrounding policies and economic institutions. And the Netherlands is a major outlier. But all else being equal, payroll taxes are the least desirable of the payroll-consumption-income tax menu.
And yet, these days two-thirds of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes. The situation is, to put it mildly, less than ideal.
To their credit, some conservatives recognize this, so there's arguably political ground here to build a compromise package. The tax plan proposed by Sens. Mike Lee and Marco Rubio would offer a new tax credit that is refundable against payroll tax liability. The Washington Examiner'sTim Carney and The New York Times' Ross Douthat have called for rolling the payroll tax back — or fiddled with the idea of replacing it with a value-added tax (VAT).
A VAT is just a sophisticated version of a sales tax. FairTax advocatesdon't like it for various reasons — they prefer a straight retail sales tax — but a VAT is the version used by most European countries, and the end effect on consumers is the same. Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, and Britain all have VAT rates of 20 percent or more, but we'd just need a VAT rate of 12.3 percent to replace all of the revenue currently raised by the payroll tax.
The rebate-but-really-UBI that would go with a 12.3 percent VAT would admittedly be considerably smaller than the $3,000 per person per year that would be needed to halve poverty. But it would get the ball rolling.
Obviously, the best way to pass a UBI would be to just pass a UBI, and let the finances sort themselves out. But barring a Democratic takeover of the presidency and the legislature that would dwarf the 2008 landslide, that isn't going to happen anytime soon. So a compromise package of this sort is probably the most realistic way to get the policy started.

As the world gets richer, don't expect it to get happier

Chris Matthews @crobmatthews

A recently published study makes clear that there is no single level of material well-being that will make people satisfied.
In 2011, the Heritage Foundation released a reportcalled “Poverty in America,” which caused a brief stir on cable news and online media.
The report argued that mainstream media reports on poverty overstated the degree to which poor people in America suffer, because the poor have a great deal of access to amenities like refrigerators, air conditioning, and cable TV, and because only a small share of them go regularly without basics like food, clothing, and shelter.
Left-leaning critics struck back, arguing that the poor have very limited access to quality healthcare and education. Meanwhile, so-called “amenities” like cars and refrigerators are necessary for the working poor to get to their jobs and stay fed.
Beneath the partisan bickering and rhetoric, there is a fundamental and fascinating question: How much is enough? Is there a basic level of material wellbeing that the human race will achieve that will make us all happier?
The Heritage Foundation argues that there must be. The fact that a poor person today is richer than all but the richest people alive a century ago must count for something, right?
This question has interested economists for decades, and it’s the subject of a new working paper released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research called “The Half Life of Happiness.” The authors try to address whether individual happiness increases hand in hand with improvements in material conditions, or whether people simply get used to those improvements and demand more.
The authors examined extremely impoverished populations in Latin America who live in slums built from trash and lack basic utilities like water, electricity, and sanitation. Some of those residents were given the opportunity to move into prefabricated homes that represented a “major improvement” over their previous housing, with raised floors, insulated roofs, and walls that protect its inhabitants from the elements. The homes cost $1,000, and participants were required to pay 10% of that cost, which ranged from one to three months of pay in countries like Mexico, Uruguay, and El Salvador.
The authors surveyed the study’s participants in the months following the move and found that they reported large increases in happiness after moving into new housing. However, after just eight months, 60% of that reported increase in happiness disappeared.
The authors findings agree with several studies conducted over the years that describe the concept of the “hedonic treadmill,” or the tendency for human beings not to become happier as they become materially or otherwise better off, but to revert to a baseline level of happiness. This study was the first to test this concept among very poor populations and the attainment of basic necessities, and it suggests that even people living in the most depraved conditions will revert, at least somewhat, to a standard level of happiness even as their conditions improve.
The findings may help explain why national advances in wealth—the kind that take place over generations—don’t seem to make a country happier or less demanding of wealth redistribution over the long run.
For individuals, the concept of the hedonic treadmill is useful as a check on ambition and acquisitiveness. In a recent, extreme example of someone applying these lessons, the CEO of Gravity Payments took a pay cut from $1 million to $70,000 a year as a response to research that shows the extra money wouldn’t make him happier.
On a macro level, the study reminds us that, on average, people will not just demand a certain level of material well-being but regular increases in their standard of living as well, regardless of the starting point. The Chinese Communist Party understands this, and its ability to deliver consistent economic gains to its citizens has allowed it to stay in power even as it denies other rights that many citizens of wealthy countries enjoy.

This and other similar studies could also help us understand the economic discontent now rampant in the wealthy world. In recent years much has been made of the rise in both income and wealth inequality, but there’s not much evidence that large income gaps actually makes people unhappier. While income inequality may not be good for economic growth, it’s likely that the average person would be happier in an economy that is unequal but provides regular increases in the individual standard of living than in an economic environment that is equal but stagnant.

Ottawa ranks high in life-happiness study

Noah Lefevre

Most of Canada's other major cities trailed well behind Ottawa, with — wait for it — Toronto and Vancouver being the least happy.
People who don’t live here might claim that Ottawa is cold and boring, but new data suggest the city has its own reasons to smile.
In a study released by Statistics Canada, Ottawa ranked in the top 10 happiest out of 33 metropolitan areas across the country.
The survey asked 340,000 people across the country to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of one to 10. On average, Ottawaans rated their life satisfaction at 8.1.
This was high enough to rank Ottawa 10th overall — the highest out of any metropolitan area with a population over one million.
John Helliwel, a life satisfaction researcher at University of British Columbia, said Tuesday that “it’s harder in big, fast cities to provide the kinds of social contact to support a happy life.”
Ottawa provides the economic benefits of living in a city, but its pace isn’t quite as rushed as some of Canada’s other metropolitan areas.
“In smaller communities, people have a chance to make the people they meet in the streets their friends rather than just people they’re going past,” said Helliwell.
Ottawa might not be quite as small a community as cities such as No. 1-ranked Saguenay, Que., but it does offer a more intimate approach to city life. Most of Canada’s other major cities trailed well behind Ottawa, with — wait for it — Toronto and Vancouver being the least happy.
When the statistics were adjusted to individual social and economic context, Ottawa fell behind Montreal among big cities, but still ranked high.
One reason behind the city’s happiness could be a strong sense of community. Helliwell said some of the most important aspects of life satisfaction are “knowing your neighbour, trusting your neighbour, time spent with family and friends, and feeling a belonging in your community,”
Seventy per cent of people in Ottawa ranked their life satisfaction at eight or higher. Only 12.4 per cent rated it at zero to six. Only six cities had a lower percentage of people giving low ratings.
Lower happiness can often relate to financial issues, and lack of social support. “Across the world, countries where many people feel they have no one to call on at times of trouble are unhappy countries,” Helliwell said.
When stacked against the 2013 World Happiness Report, Ottawa’s happiness comes out higher than any individual country — including Canada.
Not feeling as happy as the rest of the city? Helliwell said his research has found certain things make people happier.
One thing that Helliwell said people often overlook is the powerful role of generosity.
“It’s often been held that what makes people happy is getting to better situations themselves, but it turns out that people are astonishingly generous and they like living in generous places.”
Alongside generosity, other factors include health, financial stability and a strong network of social support.
The StatsCan study also found that women tend to be happier than men, and married people are happier than those who aren’t. When individual economic context was taken into account, aboriginal people reported some of the highest levels of happiness.
Helliwell said this kind of research “allows individuals and policy-makers to have a better idea of how society is doing.” He said that other measurements such as gross domestic product and unemployment rates only cover certain aspects of life, while satisfaction gives a blanket statement of how people are really feeling.
World Happiness Report’s Key Variables
The World Happiness Report looks at life satisfaction on a global scale. It has identified six main variables that explain about three-quarters of the difference in life satisfaction.
Money: On a global scale, the report finds that richer countries allow for more life satisfaction. In general, people in a sound economic situation will show more satisfaction with their life.
Health: Life expectancy usually creates a happier country. On a Canadian scale, the StatsCan study found that healthier people were happier people.
Support: Having someone to rely on in times of trouble leads to a happier living. Whether it’s family, friends or community, nobody can be alone at all times. A healthy social life is key to living a satisfying life.
Trust: Feeling like institutions such as governments and businesses are trustworthy helps to drive up satisfaction. Having a trustworthy local government and supportive local businesses can make some cities happier than others.
Generosity: People like to give. Being generous and helping others feel better helps to contribute to happiness. Areas with more community initiatives, donations and generosity are happier areas.

Freedom: Freedom to make key life decisions such as employment, lifestyle and personal expression is an important factor. Without feeling safe to express themselves and pursue their dreams, people are much more likely to feel unsatisfied.

Project Humanities hosts Free Hug Day to promote happiness

 Free hugs were given by the Project Humanity group on April 21, 2015 at the Memorial Union in Tempe.

By Aimee Plante

Students walking through Cady Mall were met with colorful signs promoting love and kindness followed by a warm embrace Tuesday as Project Humanities volunteers hosted a free hug session, just in time for the stress of finals week.
Project Humanities planned Free Hug Day as part of their kindness initiative, which includes a Humanities 101 pledge for values like compassion and respect. Sharon Torres, the organization’s coordinator, said kindness can get people through a bad day.
 “We are trying to offer some happiness for people who are going through a tough time,” she said. “It may be through stress, family or schoolwork, and we hope that us being out there to greet people with a smile can help them.”
National Hugging Day took place Jan. 21, which Torres said was too early for Project Humanities to organize an official date at ASU.
However, despite the event's timing, Torres said Free Hug Day can also offer help during finals week.
“We’re always looking for creative and low-budget ways to spread our message,” she said. “I think that is it a bonus that we are doing this at the end of the semester, when stress levels are high.”
Torres said a hug can promote other supportive actions.
“This really brings people together to connect with each other,” she said. “Hopefully people will spend a few moments talking with each other, and that is really the overall goal of Project Humanities: bringing people together to talk about things.”
Biomedical engineering graduate student Yashwanth Nanda Kumar, Project Humanities’ web developer, said he volunteered after the organization helped him reach out to other students.
“I’m an engineer, so you can already see that contrast,” he said. “But everyone is human, and you can’t separate science from humanities. … Project Humanities has given me an opportunity to talk to people as an Indian and meet people from other regions.”
Secondary education freshman Abigail Graham, Project Humanities’ communications coordinator, said brain chemistry makes hugging feel good.
“It’s like a psychological thing,” she said. “Hugging and human contact releases endorphins in your brain and set you off to be happier. If you get a hug, even if it’s from a stranger, a loved one or anyone, that human contact is going to give you a happier day.”
Hugging someone may incite more acts of kindness on campus, Graham said.
“It’s going to make you want to make other people happy too because kindness is contagious,” she said. “If you’re happier, you’re going to give that fruit of being happy and make other people happy.”
Graham said Free Hug Day offers a smooth introduction to Project Humanities' upcoming Business of Kindness event, which will explore the marketing strategies of local businesses who incorporate kindness into their business model.
Because people can incorporate kindness into their professional lives, Graham said hugging isn’t the only option.
“You don’t even have to give someone a hug,” she said. “You can do something for anyone. It can be a hug, a smile, saying thank you or holding the door. Anything like that is a good thing to share with others.”

Reach the reporter at aplante@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @aimeenplante
Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.

Good words to have

Null: Having no legal or binding force : invalid.  TheEnglish borrowed null from the Anglo-French nul, meaning "not any." That word, in turn, traces to the Latin word nullus, fromne-, meaning "not," and ullus, meaning "any."

Intractable:  Not easily handled, managed, or controlled. From Latin tractare (to handle), frequentative of trahere (draw). 

Word power

Quidnunc: A person who seeks to know all the latest news or gossip : busybody

Dour: Sullen; severe; gloomy; stubborn.  Probably from Latin durus (hard). Earliest documented use: 1425.

Omnipotent: Having virtually unlimited authority or influence. Ultimately derives from the Latin prefix omni-, meaning "all," and the word potens, meaning "potent." The omni- prefix has also given us similar words such as omniscient (meaning "all-knowing") and omnivorous (describing an animal that eats both plants and other animals). Although omnipotent is used in general contexts to mean "all-powerful" (as in "an omnipotent warlord"), its original applications in English referred specifically to the power held by an almighty God. The word has been used as an English adjective since the 14th century; since 1600 it has also been used as a noun referring to one who is omnipotent. 

We had a great time in New Orleans