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Link between post-capitalist culture and higher happiness

Author: Maciamo Hay
Written in July/August 2020.

Are countries that value more altruism, tolerance, consensus, social fairness, pluralism, egalitarianism and ecology happier than others?

The United Nations' World Happiness Report assesses the happiness level of nations based on reports of subjective happiness, well-being and life satisfaction. The factors that make some societies happier than others have been debated, but affluence, health and life expectancy all come short of explaining why a country like Costa Rica gets a higher happiness score than the United States, Singapore or Qatar. Countries with a high level of development like Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Italy, Spain, Portugal or Hungary scored relatively low on happiness. Even the United States ranked 18th worldwide in 2018 and 19th in the 2019 even though it had one of the highest GDP per capita. After getting acquainted with the psychological stages in a society's evolution (known as spiral dynamics), I set about devising a scoring system to assess how far advanced were various countries on the path to a post-capitalist culture. The classification was based on values and not on GDP per capita, although the spiral dynamics theory postulates that a society must past through each stage of development before going to the next. The 5th stage (green vMeme) represents post-capitalist values such as social fairness, egalitarianism, consensus, altruism, tolerance of other cultures and lifestyles, and the protection of the environment. This level of consciousness can only be attained after people have passed through the 4th stage of personal success, capitalism and consumerism (orange vMeme) and having rejected its excesses.

The old adage has it that 'money does not bring happiness'. Psychologists have confirmed that this was true, at least once basic needs were met. One must realise that before adopting the values of the green vMeme. My score table shows that there is a reasonable correlation between those "post-capitalist" (for want of a better, more encompassing term) values and levels of happiness - especially after being adjusted for GDP per capita at PPP. The correlation seems stronger within a same region though. It works well within Europe. It works within East Asia or within Latin America, but not when all countries are mixed up, probably because other cultural factors also play a role.

Country Green vMeme score Happiness Score (2019)
Sweden 92.42 7.343
Iceland 80.95 7.494
Finland 74.11 7.769
Switzerland 73.88 7.480
United Kingdom 73.61 7.054
Norway 72.71 7.554
Ireland 70.57 7.021
Netherlands 67.99 7.488
Denmark 65.99 7.600
Austria 64.27 7.246
Germany 63.63 6.985
Belgium 63.56 6.923
New Zealand 62.90 7.307
Singapore 59.98 6.262
Australia 56.65 7.228
France 56.58 6.592
Slovenia 55.98 6.118
Luxembourg 55.91 7.090
Israel 54.26 7.139
Estonia 53.56 5.893
Spain 52.10 6.354
Canada 51.33 7.278
Taiwan 51.02 6.446
Portugal 50.98 5.693
Italy 50.76 6.223
Malta 47.38 6.726
Lithuania 45.56 6.149
United States 44.84 6.892
South Korea 44.38 5.895
Czechia 43.27 6.852
Slovakia 39.56 6.198
Latvia 39.07 5.940
Croatia 38.90 5.432
Poland 38.88 6.182
Hungary 37.15 5.758
Uruguay 36.97 6.293
Japan 36.30 5.886
Cyprus 35.66 6.046
Greece 34.99 5.287
Bulgaria 34.69 5.011
Costa Rica 34.44 7.167
Argentina 33.29 6.086
Chile 32.76 6.444
Hong Kong 30.22 5.430
Mexico 29.68 6.595
Peru 27.95 5.697
Serbia 27.92 5.603
China 27.68 5.191
Malaysia 27.33 5.339
North Macedonia 27.08 5.274
Brazil 26.01 6.300
Romania 24.77 6.070
Turkey 23.12 5.373
Russia 19.60 5.648
Saudi Arabia 13.96 6.375
Qatar 10.01 6.374
Kuwait 7.84 6.011

Europe only

Country Green vMeme score Happiness Score (2019)
Sweden 92.42 7.343
Iceland 80.95 7.494
Finland 74.11 7.769
Switzerland 73.88 7.480
United Kingdom 73.61 7.054
Norway 72.71 7.554
Ireland 70.57 7.021
Netherlands 67.99 7.488
Denmark 65.99 7.600
Austria 64.27 7.246
Germany 63.63 6.985
Belgium 63.56 6.923
France 56.58 6.592
Slovenia 55.98 6.118
Luxembourg 55.91 7.090
Israel 54.26 7.139
Estonia 53.56 5.893
Spain 52.10 6.354
Portugal 50.98 5.693
Italy 50.76 6.223
Malta 47.38 6.726
Lithuania 45.56 6.149
Czechia 43.27 6.852
Slovakia 39.56 6.198
Latvia 39.07 5.940
Croatia 38.90 5.432
Poland 38.88 6.182
Hungary 37.15 5.758
Cyprus 35.66 6.046
Greece 34.99 5.287
Bulgaria 34.69 5.011
Serbia 27.92 5.603
North Macedonia 27.08 5.274
Romania 24.77 6.070
Turkey 23.12 5.373
Russia 19.60 5.648

There correlation in general is quite good. A few countries are happier than their Green vMeme scores suggest. This includes Luxembourg because of its extremely high GDP per capita, but also because it lost a lot of points in the Ecology score simply because the CO2 per capita appears high due to the low taxes on gasoline and the fact that people from neighbouring elgium, Germany and France come to fill their tanks in Luxembourg, which distorts the official petroleum consumption per capita. Israel, Malta and Cyprus also score higher than expected on happiness, probably because the sunlight has a positive effect on mood. Another country is Czechia, for reasons I can't explain (especially considering the big gap in happiness with Slovakia, which is very similar culturally).

Countries that are less happy that they should be are Portugal, and to a lower extend also Greece and Bulgaria. High unemployment in Greece (17% in 2019) may play a role in this, but not in Portugal and Bulgaria (each 7% in 2019).

East Asia only

Country Green vMeme score Happiness Score (2019)
Singapore 59.98 6.262
Taiwan 51.02 6.446
South Korea 44.38 5.895
Japan 36.30 5.886
Hong Kong 30.22 5.430
China 27.68 5.191
Malaysia 27.33 5.339

Nearly perfect match between the two scores.

New World only

Country Green vMeme score Happiness Score (2019)
New Zealand 62.90 7.307
Australia 56.65 7.228
Canada 51.33 7.278
United States 44.84 6.892
Uruguay 36.97 6.293
Costa Rica 34.44 7.167
Argentina 33.29 6.086
Chile 32.76 6.444
Mexico 29.68 6.595
Peru 27.95 5.697
Brazil 26.01 6.300

The countries in the New World (Americas, Australia and New Zealand) are all happier than their Green vMeme score would suggest. This is especially true for Costa Rica, Mexico and Brazil.

I thought about the reasons why Latin American countries score considerably higher on happiness than on the level of post-capitalist culture. One factor is that I could not find data for all categories in my scoring system. None got any point for consumption of Fairtrade products, because they are typically the beneficiaries of Fairtrade agriculture rather than the consumers of goods labelled as such. I had to give the same Wikipedia score to all Spanish speaking countries as there was no way to distinguish the country of origin of contributors. Nevertheless it is undeniable that some countries contributed more than others.

Last but not least, the ecology score is usually low in Latin America, but that is not entirely the fault of the population. If the governments do not have the means or the will to recycle municipal waste in every city, or if CO2 emissions are high because of (foreign) companies abusing the environment, we can't put all the blame on the population.

The choice for ecological and Fairtrade products is generally only possible once people become wealthy enough to vote with their feet and boycott abusive companies. It's not a choice that most ordinary people have in Latin America yet.

If I exclude Fairtrade from the total Green vMeme score, here is what I obtain for the New World.

Country Green vMeme score Happiness Score (2019)
New Zealand 71.68 7.307
Australia 68.47 7.228
Canada 61.30 7.278
United States 56.67 6.892
Uruguay 47.92 6.293
Costa Rica 44.55 7.167
Argentina 43.02 6.086
Chile 42.31 6.444
Mexico 38.20 6.595
Peru 35.90 5.697
Brazil 34.41 6.300

All the Green vMemes scores are higher and more in line with the Happiness scores. Costa Rica and Mexico still get considerably higher happiness scores.

Follow-up

What countries have the most post-capitalist culture? (Spiral Dynamics Green vMemes)

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