This year’s UN World Happiness Report ranks Lithuania 52nd of the 155 countries in the ranking. Significant progress has been achieved over the past year, with Lithuania rising up from 60th place. Why are the Lithuanians feeling increasingly happier and what could increase this feeling of happiness Swedbank chief economist Nerijus Mačiulis asks?
Nerijus Mačiulis
Nerijus Mačiulis
© DELFI / Domantas Pipas

Based on the UN report, Lithuanians are happier than Latvians, Estonians or Hungarians, but feel less so than many from richer European countries. This is nothing surprising, in almost all these countries more than a fifth of the feeling of happiness is attributed to financial welfare, in this case measured in GDP per capita.

That said GDP is an imperfect measure because it says little about those who do not participate in the generation of GDP. Nevertheless the rapid wage growth experienced in recent years, as well as the reductions in income inequality has contributed to a significant portion of people’s happiness.
Unlike a year ago, however, it is social metrics that contribute more toward the happiness ranking, rather than economic ones. The social support metric is measured not based on the welfare payment paid by the country or social guarantees provided, but by asking citizens whether they have relatives or friends they could rely on if they encounter hardship. Based on this metric Lithuania has risen to 20th place and exceeds almost all Western European states, albeit still falling behind Scandinavian ones. On the other hand this may not be something to celebrate, but rather to suspect that due to a weak social security system, often one is left reliant on relatives.

Unfortunately in two regards Lithuania has actually regressed. In terms of healthy lifespan Lithuania has dropped from 62 to 71. In this regard it is important to keep in mind that it is not the expected lifespan that is being evaluated, but health in old age. Thus the encouragement of a healthy lifestyle and efforts to reduce alcohol and tobacco consumption would results in an increase of happiness in the long term.

Based on generosity Lithuania is unfortunately second to last in the world – only a very minor portion of the public consistently donate to charity. Lithuanians are inclined to help or rely on those in their social circle, but are far colder in regard to other people’s problems. Such results echo research by other institutions which show that Lithuanians are not empathetic. However sharing and caring for others creates a sense of happiness, sometimes beyond that of receiving. It is one of the easier ways of raising national and personal happiness.

As before, a large portion of Lithuanians do not feel they are in free control of their lives. In part this is related to financial constraints. Furthermore a significant portion of the older generation lost the opportunities due to the lengthy occupation of Lithuania. In regard to corruption the situation has not changed either, it significantly decreases the happiness ranking – Lithuanians see too much corruption and react to it painfully. However dissatisfaction with the current situation and total intolerance for corruption is an important step toward eradicating it.

Finally even while celebrating a rise in national happiness levels we should not forget the thoughts expressed in Lev Tolstoy’s Ana Karenina that all happy families are alike one another, while each unhappy family is unhappy in their own way. Average happiness, similarly to average wage, average lifespan or average patient temperature in a hospital hides many details on individual problems. The average happiness of Lithuanians looks ok, but there are still too many families in poverty and hopelessness.

There will be those who claim that the unhappy emigrate, thus the situation does not appear too bad. In fact the unending flows of emigration show that for at least a part of Lithuanians the current employment and wage growth is insufficient to feel happy where they were born. This UN research shows that happiness does not lie in money. Or at least not only in money. A healthier, freer, less corrupt, more generous and more caring society, these are no less important in seeking personal happiness.

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