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Sunday May 20, 2012

Report shows there’s more to happiness than money

BEIJING: The first World Happiness Report, released by the Earth Institute last month, was commissioned by the United Nations for its Conference on Happiness. It again shows that the world’s happiest countries are all in northern Europe – Denmark came tops followed by Finland, Norway and the Nether­lands.

China doesn’t even make the top 100, which should come as no surprise when we consider the measurements used to judge the quality of life in a country: health, education, housing, the environment, jobs, community, work-life balance and incomes.

Take health, for instance. Increased insurance coverage has not yet been effective in reducing patients’ financial risks, as both health expenditure and out-of-pocket payments continue to rise rapidly. And there are many reports of disgruntled patients and their relatives attacking the medical staff in hospitals.

Reform of public hospitals is essential to control health expenditure because such institutes deliver more than 90% of the country’s health services.

But Health Minister Chen Zhu said the cost of improving care remains an obstacle, and China is looking to other nations for cost-effective solutions.

As for the work-life balance, Chinese employees work 8.66 hours a day on average, according to a survey this year jointly conducted by Peking University and the human resources company zhaopin.com. In Finland, the working day is 7.5 hours, according to the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development.

At roughly US$7.9tril (RM24.62tril), China now accounts for more than a 10th of all global economic activity. But, according to the International Monetary Fund, our per capita gross domestic product, at US$9,143 (RM28,488), ranks 91st in the world this year. Clearly we have a long way to go before our economy catches up with the United States and other developed countries.

And though Chinese people have significantly more savings than people in Denmark, for instance, we are clearly less happy when we look at all the measurements of national happiness as a whole. When it comes to happiness, the Danes are exceptionally happy, continually ranking as the happiest people on earth over several years in several different studies.

Though the happiest countries tend to be wealthy, and the poorest tend to be the least happy – Togo, Benin, Central African Republic and Sierra Leone came bottom on the list – the report notes that happiness is not just about money.

While higher incomes may raise happiness to some extent, the quest for more money may actually reduce one’s happiness.

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