July 01, 2005

The Unhappiest Country

One sunny morning, as I lounged in the Café Eisenstein, located in the Black Sea town of Odessa, an article in a local newspaper grabbed my attention: “Moldovans are the Unhappiest People in the World.” Having just completed a work assignment in Russia and the Crimea, it was hard for me to believe that neighboring Moldova was even unhappier than Bulgaria and the Ukraine.

Apparently, according to the World Values Survey, whose researchers interviewed tens of thousands of people in over 60 countries during the past decade, I had picked some of the unhappiest places on the planet to visit. Only 51% of Russians were said to be happy; Ukrainians: 48%. With the happiness rates of Bangladesh and Nigeria coming in at 85% and 81%, respectively, my interest was peaked. How could it be that the rather European Republic of Moldova, whose main export is wine and champagne, tipsy in at 44% – the absolute bottom of the scale?

If money was the root of happiness, then why were other countries with low annual incomes, like Brazil, so content at 83%? Even a whopping 93% of Filipinos said they were happy with their life. Perhaps the climate has something to do with it, I reasoned. All the fairly satisfied, aforementioned countries have an enjoyably sunny climate year-round. Could the brisk Moldovan winters cause ample mood swings? (Were citizens polled in winter instead of summer?) That theory was quickly dismissed when I noticed that the winner – the happiest place on Earth – was Iceland, 97% of whose Nordic citizens proclaim that they are blissful.

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