Strategy. Innovation. Brand.

World Happiness Report

Happiness and Creativity

Do you want to be happy or creative today?

The 2017 World Happiness Report was released yesterday. The headlines today are all about Norway, which supplanted Denmark as the happiest country in the world. That’s nice and I’m sure that Norwegians are celebrating today. But what intrigues me is the relationship between happiness and creativity. (See also here, here and here).

In 2015, the Martin Prosperity Institute published the Global Creativity Index. Reviewing the two lists together suggests that the relationship between happiness and creativity is very tight indeed. Here are the top ten countries on each list.

Rank Happiness (2017) Most Creative (2015)
1 Norway Australia
2 Denmark United States
3 Iceland New Zealand
4 Switzerland Canada
5 Finland Denmark
6 Netherlands Sweden
7 Canada Finland
8 New Zealand Iceland
9 Australia Singapore
10 Sweden Netherlands

Of the ten happiest countries in the world, eight also make the top ten list for most creative countries in the world. The two that miss — Norway and Switzerland — don’t miss by much. Norway is 11th on the most creative list; Switzerland is 16th.

Conversely, of the ten most creative countries in the world, eight also make the list of the happiest countries in the world. Again, the two that don’t make the list — the United States and Singapore — don’t miss by much. The United States is 14th; Singapore is 26th.

What’s it all mean? I can think of at least four ways to interpret the data:

  • Happiness causes creativity — there’s a meme that says that only tortured geniuses are truly creative. Perhaps it’s wrong. Perhaps you have to be happy to be creative.
  • Creativity causes happiness — this explanation appeals more to me. I know that when I create something (like an article for this website), it makes me happy. I get a little glow of accomplishment. On the other hand, I know happy people who aren’t very creative and vice-versa.
  • A hidden third variable causes happiness and creativity to correlate — perhaps there’s something else going on. It could be income — all of the countries are fairly rich. It could be government policy — they all invest public funds in research. It could be geography — they are all fairly far from the equator. It could be language — all of the countries on the list have very good English language skills.
  • The two surveys are measuring essentially the same thing — though the two surveys seem quite different, perhaps they really measure the same thing. Perhaps happiness and creativity are so throughly intertwined that we can’t tease them apart.

It’s also interesting to delve into which countries have the best combination of happiness and creativity. We can make some crude judgments by adding up the national position in each survey. Like golf, the low score wins. For instance, Denmark is second in happiness and fifth in creativity, for a combined score of seven. As it happens, that’ s the lowest score — so Denmark takes first place in the combined league table. Here are the top five combined scores. I don’t know about you but I think I’ll soon pay a visit to Denmark.

Rank Country Combined Score
1 Denmark 7
2 Australia 10
3 Iceland 11
3 (tie) Canada 11
3 (tie) New Zealand 11

Happiness, Brand, and Innovation

World leaders.

World leaders.

Are Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland the three best countries in the world? You might think so based on the latest rounds of research.

In the past, I’ve reported on the World Happiness Report (WHR) and the Global Innovation Index (GII). Both studies are produced regularly and measure a country’s ability to promote specific outcomes. The WHR measures how happy a country’s citizens are and why. The GII measures how effectively a country promotes and protects innovation, especially in regards to scientific and technical innovation.

In a previous article, I compared happiness and innovation. There seems to be a connection, though it’s difficult to say whether happiness promotes innovation or vice versa. Or perhaps some hidden, third variable promotes both. (By the way, I’ve also written about how happiness is measured).

This year, in addition to the updated versions of WHR and GII, I’ve added another — FutureBrand’s Country Brand Index (CBI) —  that measures the strength of a country’s brand. Now in its eighth edition, CBI asks citizens of many countries to judge the most attractive countries to produce “future-positive predictions”. WHR and GII aim to measure the actual phenomenon — either happiness or innovation. CBI measures perceptions; how is a country perceived by citizens of other countries.

Putting together the three studies reveals a great deal of overlap. In the table below, I’ve listed the top ten countries in each report. Countries that make the top ten in all three studies are in red. Countries that reach the top ten in two studies are in blue. Countries that make the list in one study are in purple.

Switzerland is ranked number one in the CBI and GII studies and number three in the WHR study.  It’s happy and innovative and has a positive reputation.

All of the Nordic countries — Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden — make at least one of the top ten lists. Sweden and Finland make all three. Denmark and Norway make two. Tiny Iceland makes one.

The USA makes the top ten in brand and innovation but ranks only 17th in happiness.

The lists are dominated by European Protestant countries or their offspring. Asia is represented by only three countries — Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore. African and Latin American countries  don’t make any of the top ten lists. The degree of overlap makes me wonder exactly what we’re measuring in these studies. It could be that happiness, innovation, and brand power are intimately related and that these studies measure the strength of the relationship. On the other hand, this could be an example of cultural bias. Or it could be a halo effect. Countries that are successful in one area may be viewed as successful in other areas as well. Of course, the reverse may also be true.

I plan to delve into each of these studies more closely in the future. In the meantime, please review the table below and help me sort out the relationship between the variables and the countries. What causes what?

WHR 2013 CBI 2013 GII 2013
1 Denmark Switzerland Switzerland  
2 Norway Canada Sweden  
3 Switzerland Japan UK  
4 Netherlands Sweden Netherlands  
5 Sweden New Zealand USA  
6 Canada Australia Finland  
7 Finland Germany Hong Kong  
8 Austria USA Singapore  
9 Iceland Finland Denmark  
10 Australia Norway Ireland

The Big Sort and The Big Short

Put two books in the blender. Then press "mash".

Put two books in the blender. Then press “mash”.

I used to be a book monogamist. I would start a book and read it — forsaking all others — until completion did us part. Then I would find another book and start the process over again. You could say that I was a serial monogamist.

Now I’m a book polygamist. Rather then reading an entire book from start to finish, I read randomly selected chapters in more-or-less randomly selected titles. I’ll read a chapter in Book A, followed by a chapter in Book B, followed by a chapter in Book X (ooh!), followed by Book D, and then back to Book A. I started doing this because I’ve read about the mashup theory of innovation, which suggests that innovations are frequently a mashup of two (or more) existing ideas. You mash up a Broadway play with a circus and get — voilá — Cirque de Soleil. Mash up a sports car and a sedan and you get – hier ist — a BMW.

Since most books really only have one idea (if that), I thought it would be useful to mash up ideas from multiple books at the same time. What do I have to show for my efforts? Well, I’m probably one of the few writers to mash up the Global Innovation Index with the World Happiness Report (click here). I’m about to mash up those two with measures of national cultural dimensions. I’ve also discovered that countries become more egalitarian (as measured by the power distance index) the farther north you go. I’d like to mash that up with another little-known fact — the incidence of multiple sclerosis increases the farther north you go. I’m not sure what egalitarianism has to do with MS but, at the very least, it’s an interesting question to ask.

At the moment, I’m reading The Big Sort and The Big Short more or less simultaneously. Given their titles, the two books seemed just perfect for mashing up. The Big Sort is subtitled, Why The Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. The basic idea is that we have sorted ourselves into homogeneous thought clusters. As the author points out, “The result is a country that has become so polarized, so ideologically inbred that people don’t know and can’t understand those who live a few miles away.” (For my previous article on The Big Sort, click here).

The Big Short, subtitled Inside The Doomsday Machine, tells the story of how a few people made bazillions of dollars by recognizing the mortgage bubble and betting against it. Of course, the mortgage bubble also triggered the biggest financial crisis since the Depression. Both books tell fascinating stories about modern America. By reading them together, I’m trying to mash them up. Could it be that thought clusters led to the doomsday machine? By separating ourselves into “ideologically inbred” clusters, did we help establish the conditions that produced a massive bubble?  I’m still trying to tease the two together but, if nothing else, it’s another interesting question to ask.

I once took a course called Comparative Literature. Among other things, we compared the epic Spanish poem The Cid with Albert Camus’ The Stranger. We found surprising parallels in plot, structure, and description. What I’m doing now is really not that different. It’s a surprisingly good (and easy) way to come up with interesting insights. So, what do you think? What books would you like to see mashed up?



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