Skip to main content
  • Where Happy People Live

    18.10.2017 | Comments | Culture | 61 Gulnar Nadirova

    During his working visit to Aktobe city a few days ago, the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev familiarized with the work of several industrial enterprises and summed up: “In Aktobe there is a road to China, railway, gas. There are no such conditions in most cities. You are happy people, prosperity to you.” [i]

    No one surprises in our time the attachment of such a subtle emotional-psychic category as "happiness" to economic indicators. But economic indicators, although important, are not the only ones in the complex conditions of human happiness. Globally, happiness is considered to be the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy. In June 2016, the OECD committed itself “to redefine the growth of narrative to put people's well-being at the center of governments’ efforts” .[ii]

    Calculations based on multilateral analysis have been implemented in the World Happiness Report, an international research project that measures the happiness of the population in countries around the world. The Earth Institute at Columbia University is carrying out the study under the auspices of the United Nations in the framework of the Global Initiative “UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network”.  With the aim of demonstrating the achievements of the countries of the world and of individual regions from the point of view of their ability to provide their residents with a happy life. The authors of the project believe that these studies can help state leaders, political and public figures to better respond to the needs and aspirations of their citizens in order to improve welfare and sustainable development. [iii]

    In drawing up the World Happiness Report, rankings take into account welfare indicators such as GDP per capita, life expectancy, the presence of civil liberties, a sense of security and confidence in the future, family stability, job security, level of corruption, as well as indirect indicators of the state of society, such as trust and generosity. In addition to these statistics and indirect indicators, a significant part of the study is the results of opinion polls of residents of different countries about how happy they feel, conducted by the Gallup International Research Center, offering respondents in each country to assess their sense of happiness on a special scale.

    In 2017, the survey covers 155 countries. Norway tops the global happiness rankings for 2017, jumping from 4th place in 2016, and followed by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland. Interesting for us is the fact that Norway moves to the top of the ranking despite weaker oil prices. It is sometimes said that Norway achieves and maintains its high happiness not because of its oil wealth, but in spite of it. By choosing slow oil production and investing in the future, instead of spending it in the present, Norway has isolated itself from the ups and downs of many other resource-rich economies. This requires a high level of public management, mutual trust, generosity and a common goal, all the factors that help to keep Norway and other top countries where they are in the ranking of happiness. All of the other countries in the top ten also have high values in all six of the key variables used to explain happiness differences among countries and through time – income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust, with the latter measured by the absence of corruption in business and government. Kazakhstan took 60th position in this rating, which is not as bad as a whole, but compared to last year the country fallen six place down. [ii]

    This year's report emphasizes the importance of the social foundations of happiness. In this regard, the group of experts conducted a special study, with the results of which they offer to familiarize all the decision-making persons in the state management structures.

    Happiness is typically defined by how people experience and evaluate their lives as a whole. Since the majority of people spend much of their lives at work, it is critically important to gain a solid understanding of the role that employment and the workplace play in shaping happiness for individuals and communities around the world. It is this factor, obviously the President had in mind in his speech to the workers of Aktobe.

    Nevertheless, it is important to note that the relationship between happiness and employment is a complex and dynamic interaction that runs in both directions. The research shows that work and employment are not only drivers of happiness, but that happiness can also itself help to shape job market outcomes, productivity, and even firm performance. The overwhelming importance of having a job for happiness is evident throughout the analysis, and holds across all of the world’s regions. When considering the world’s population as a whole, people with a job evaluate the quality of their lives much more favorably than those who are unemployed. The importance of having a job extends far beyond the salary attached to it, with non-pecuniary aspects of employment such as social status, social relations, daily structure, and goals all exerting a strong influence on people’s happiness. Equally, policies aimed at helping people to manage the non-monetary as well as the monetary difficulties associated with being unemployed, in addition to helping them back into work, will likely help to raise societal wellbeing. In addition to the quantity of jobs, policy instruments can be used to encourage employers to improve the quality of jobs. [iv]

    Along with the World Happiness Report, there are other happiness measurement systems. In particular, rating of the countries of the world on the index of happiness “New Economic Foundation: The Happy Planet Index 2016”. The Happy Planet Index is a combined indicator that measures the achievements of the countries of the world and individual regions in terms of their ability to provide their residents with a happy life. It is calculated according to the methods of the British Research Center “New Economic Foundation” in conjunction with the environmental organization “Friends of the Earth”, the humanitarian organization “World Development Movement”, and a group of independent international experts using in their work, along with analytical developments, statistical data of national institutions and international organizations. Issued once in two or three years.

    The aim of the study is to show the relative effectiveness with which countries use economic growth and natural resources in order to provide their citizens with a happy life. The authors of the rating stress that in countries where the emphasis is on production development and with it on economic growth, people tend not to get happier as the economic theories that are held by the authorities of these states have nothing to do with people’s real life. The index measures the satisfaction indicators of the inhabitants of each country and the average life expectancy in relation to the amount of natural resources they consume. Economic indicators in the calculation methodology of the index are not used. Kazakhstan occupies a rather low 114th position in this rating. [v]

    But the idea of ​​making society's happiness a government responsibility is far from universal. However, it seems, it is becoming more and more popular. Since the early 1970s, the kingdom of Bhutan began the path when it established the Gross National Happiness Index, which measures happiness based on psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, standard of living, time use, community viability and good governance. In 2013, Venezuela created a vice ministry of higher social happiness, and in the same year, Ecuador launched an unusual initiative - the so-called Secretary of State of Ecuador for the benefit of life (Secretaría del Buen Vivir) was appointed. In recent years, Thailand and the United Kingdom have launched surveys to measure well-being, while other governments have commissioned reports to explore the benefits of happiness in a country’s overall development. [vi] The United Arab Emirates assigned a Minister of Happiness, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, said that the Happiness Minister position would “align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction.”[vii]

    In all the above ratings, the emphasis is not on the numerical indicators, but on the human subjective factor, and this is perhaps the most attractive feature of them. Figures that work for the "image" of the country can be glossed over and international experts repeatedly pointed to similar facts. For a structure owned by the government and usually dependent on a strong ministry (economy and / or finance, industry, internal affairs, etc.), it is very difficult to compile authoritative statistics. [viii]

    As for the "human factor", which has a subjective and emotional background, it is more difficult to manipulate it, and therefore it causes more confidence in international experts than government reports and state statistics. That is why government policies needs to increase their focus on more inclusive and real projects which will cover the majority of the population, rather than the image projects, whose value in the calculation of the international rankings is not decisive.


    [I] Accessed on 08.10.2017

    [II] Accessed on 07.10.2017

    [III] Accessed on 08.10.2017

    [IV] De Neve, Jan-Emmanuel and Ward, George W. Happiness at work. Accessed on 09.10.2017

    [V] Accessed on 09.10.2017

    [VI] . Accessed on  05.10.2017

    [VII] Accessed on  09.10.2017

    [VIII] Beaud, Jean-Pierre. Can we trust statistical data? A historical perspective Accessed on  09.10.2017

    Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute's editorial policy.

    Tags: Kazakhstan, Culture, World Happiness


  • Senior Research fellow

    Gulnar Nadirova

    Nadirova Gulnar Ermuratovna graduated from the Oriental Faculty of Leningrad State University, in 1990 she defended her thesis on the Algerian literature at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, in 2006 doctoral thesis - on modern Tunisian literature at the Tashkent Institu