A couple of things make me skeptical. First off, it's impossible to tell how exactly the rankings were determined. The University's press release reads:
Adrian White, an analytic social psychologist at the University’s School of Psychology, analysed data published by UNESCO, the CIA, the New Economics Foundation, the WHO, the Veenhoven Database, the Latinbarometer, the Afrobarometer, and the UNHDR, to create a global projection of subjectiveApparently data was pulled from a motley mix of sources, a bunch of studies that putatively ask about happiness (any standardization?), and then the curious line about vaguely 'analysed data'. I emailed the author several days ago asking to be pointed in a direction that would expound on the methodology, but received no response.
well-being: the first world map of happiness.
The projection, which is to be published in a psychology journal this September, will be presented at a conference later in the year. Participants in the various studies were asked questions related to happiness and satisfaction with life. The meta-analysis is based on the findings of over 100 different studies around the world, which questioned 80,000 people worldwide. For this study data has also been analysed in relation to health, wealth and access to education.
A quick perusal (an oxymoron, incidentally!) of White's rankings seemed to show happiness being bolstered by economic stagnation (running a regression yields a moderate, but statistically significant, inverse correlation of .20 between economic growth and White's index) . Counterintuitive, especially to Americans, where politicians often live and die by economic numbers. Further, a link in Parapundit's comments section pointed to a blatantly green 'Happy planet index' that White used in his calculations.
And the two studies are definetly related. They both use the exact same 178 countries (Saint Lucia, population 168,000, and Seychelles, population 81,000, twice included; Micronesia, population 108,000, and Macau, population 453,000, twice not present). The two indices correlate with one another at a statistically significant .62. That's stronger than the relationship between national IQ (as estimated in IQ and the Wealth of Nations) and national wealth as measured by purchasing power parity (2005). It suggests that almost 40% of White's scoring comes directly from the 'Happy Planet' fellows.
Who would have thought Bhutan (ranked 8th happiest country on earth), with the 12th highest infant mortality rate in the world, suffering less than a 50% literacy rate, and poorer than much of Africa, would be more joyful than Canada, Norway, or the US?
Moreover, White's homepage accesses a survey entitled "National Environment and Personality Survey" that asks questions about personal water conservation, etc. Not that resource profligacy is good, nor to impugn the author's integrity, but with the happiness rankings being so muddled, the author so apparently green, and countries without economic growth or resource usage being so championed, it's tough not to be skeptical.
I agree with Randall's assertion that smaller, homogenuous societies tend to function better and have happier denizens than do gargantuan, balkanized ones, but am weary of anti-capitalist green zeal masquerading as social science.