One possible consideration for your five flags plan, or any long-term international plan for your life, is to consider how happy the people are in the country (or countries) you intend to live. The problem is that there is a huge amount of bullshit when it comes to happiness studies and happiness indexes when countries are compared to one another.
Today I will show you how to interpret whether or not any happiness study or survey that shows people are happier in one country over another is actually accurate.
First off, I will concede that of course there are some countries where people are miserable (North Korea, South Sudan, etc) and countries where people are reasonably happy (Vanuatu, Norway, etc). There are nice places in the world and horrible places in the world. I’m instead talking here about whenever you see Country A being compared to Country B as being less or more happy when such a comparison either A) doesn’t make a lot of sense or B) is so minor in difference you probably can’t definitely say who is happier.
I will also concede that Americans are among the least happy people in the developed world. So don’t think I’m defending America here; as usual, I am not. I dislike it here so much that I’ve got exactly 20 months before I move away. Americans are a stressed-out, unhappy, indebted, politically divided bunch of insane SJWs and irrational Trump supporters who are standing on a sinking ship screaming at each other over the shrimp cocktail.
Now that that’s out of the way, here’s why most happiness studies/indexes regarding countries are usually inaccurate.
1. Self-identification in surveys is almost always pure bullshit.
As I examined in an article here, American conservatives are jumping for joy about how “Generation Z is conservative.” Indeed, when you ask Generation Z if they are conservative or liberal, a lot of them will answer conservative. But when you ask those “conservative” kids their actual political views, you get all the usual left-wing answers about how great the welfare state is, how we should all have government-run health care, how rich people should pay more in taxes, how we need to save the world from climate change, and so on.
So the self-identified “conservative” Gen Z isn’t conservative at all. Other than the fact they go to church a little more often, they’re just as politically left as the Millennials. The only difference is that they prefer the false label of “conservative” for whatever reason.
It’s exactly the same when you ask some Scandinavian about how “happy” he is with his health care. He says he’s happy. But when you ask him specific questions about his experience with the health care in his country, like how long he has to typically wait for a doctor’s appointment, you will get answers that will horrify most Americans. His health care is demonstrably worse than in some other countries, but he still says he’s “happy”.
I could go on and on with examples of this, like when you ask married women how often they have sex with their husbands you get one number which is “plenty,” but when you ask those same husbands how often they have sex with their wives, you get a much smaller number and how much it sucks.
Any survey or study that relies on any form of self-identification without asking specific questions about what’s actually happening should be ignored. This is a huge problem with these happiness indexes.
2. Different cultures have different standards for happiness.
This rolls right from the Scandinavian health care example.
Way back in the 1990s, I spoke with a woman from Europe (I don’t remember which country) who had moved to America. Back then, Hillary Clinton was trying to impose some kind of socialistic health care system on the USA “like Europe had.” Since America had not yet shifted left, she failed of course. (Now that America is a left-wing country, even including Republicans, Bernie Sanders or whomever is the next socialist president after Trump who will, of course, succeed.)
This woman was telling me, “You Americans want government health care? Ha! You people have no idea what you’re asking for. Europeans are not like Americans. In Europe, when we are told we have to wait six weeks to see our doctor, we don’t like it, but we shrug and wait. It’s not a big deal to us. But you Americans, you want everything right now. If you are told to wait six weeks, you will be rioting in the streets. That’s why government health care is ‘okay’ in Europe but will be a disaster if ever tried here in the USA.”
She’s absolutely right. Just imagine if some mom in the USA with a kid with some kind stomach pain is told by her government-run doctor that she needs to wait a month, or even just two weeks for an appointment. She’ll be screaming bloody murder, while a European mom would just say, “Okay,” and roll with it. Europeans are far more chill, patient, and trusting of the state than us impatient, asshole Americans.
People in different cultures are made happy or unhappy by different things. A particular negative condition can be viewed as unacceptable in one country and perfectly fine in another. Most happiness studies don’t account for this difference at all.
3. Many “happiness reports” or “happiness indexes” don’t actually report happiness at all.
This is a huge one. Most happiness studies/indexes I’ve seen don’t even report happiness at all! Instead, they report things such as GDP per capita, life expectancy, perceived levels of government corruption, and the cost of long-distance phone calls. These things are fine, but they aren’t happiness, and don’t necessarily correlate to actual happiness for the reason I just explained above.
At the same time, these happiness studies often don’t include things like debt of the government, debt of the average person, weakness of the currency, rising crime rates, political unrest, and so on. Well, how convenient of you to leave all of those things out!
So any time you see one of these studies, make damn sure they’re actually trying to measure real happiness of the citizens and not just throwing in a bunch of things the people conducting the study think or assume would make people happy.
4. Regardless of how happy or unhappy the people in a certain country are or are not, YOU may still hate living there.
People in Thailand are pretty happy by most accounts, but I would be absolutely miserable if I lived there, or even spent a good part of the year there. Nothing wrong with Thailand. It’s just not for me.
Same deal with Scandinavia. I think most Scandinavians, being a more chill culture, are pretty happy. But, holy hell, if I had to pay the tax rates those Scandinavians pay while putting up with their cultural disdain for personal success and achievement, I’d probably kill myself.
On the other hand, people in Japan are totally repressed and stressed-out, and always score low on most happiness studies, yet I would love to live in Japan. I’m not going to live in Japan; I’m going to live elsewhere for my own five flags reasons; I’m just saying I could live in Japan and I would enjoy it immensely despite their relative unhappiness.
So happiness might be a factor, maybe. But you need to evaluate the most important factor, which is you and what would make you happy rather than people in Bangladesh, Colombia, or Sweden.
It’s for all these reasons you should never put too much weight behind these happiness studies or indexes.