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### Study Challenges Wealth Bias as Finland Ranks Highest in Happiness Index


  • August Nilsson
  • PhD Candidate in Organizational Psychology, Lund University

Finland consistently holds the top position as the happiest country globally. In March 2024, Finland secured the title of the happiness champion for the seventh consecutive year. The assessment is based on a straightforward question employing a ladder analogy, posed to individuals worldwide. However, concerns have been raised within my team regarding the implications of the ladder metaphor, suggesting that it may lead people to associate happiness with power and wealth.

Since 2005, the Gallup analytics organization has been dedicated to gauging happiness levels across the globe. This mission has gained significance as an increasing number of governments emphasize the well-being of their citizens.

For instance, all OECD countries now prioritize the measurement of the well-being of their citizens. Over a decade ago, Bhutan shifted its government’s primary objective towards happiness rather than gross domestic product.

The global ranking is determined through a single but impactful question known as the Cantril Ladder:

“Imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to ten at the top. The top of the ladder signifies the best possible life for you, while the bottom represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder do you feel you stand at this moment?”

Upon encountering this question, individuals often contemplate what the pinnacle of the ladder symbolizes for them. Does it signify love, wealth, family, or other aspects?

In a recent study involving 1,600 UK adults, conducted by a research team comprising members from Sweden, the US, and the UK, we delved into these inquiries. The results of our experiment, which included five distinct groups, revealed intriguing insights.

One group was prompted to reflect on the significance of the ladder’s top, while another group received the same query with the ladder metaphor replaced by the term “scale.” Surprisingly, the study indicated that the ladder analogy inclined individuals towards pondering power and wealth rather than familial bonds, friendships, or mental well-being. Even after removing the ladder metaphor, participants still associated the concept with financial security rather than terms like “wealth” or “upper class.”

In a separate group, the question was presented without the ladder metaphor or the top versus bottom description. Furthermore, two additional groups were introduced, wherein the phrase “best possible life” was substituted with “happiest possible life” and “most harmonious life,” respectively.

Individuals in the latter groups exhibited a reduced emphasis on power and wealth, shifting their focus towards holistic well-being encompassing relationships, work-life balance, and mental health.

Our research team also inquired about people’s aspirations concerning their placement on the scale. Interestingly, the study revealed that, across various groups, the majority did not aim for the highest score of ten, signifying the best possible life. Instead, the prevalent desire was to attain a nine.

Notably, the group exposed to the ladder analogy expressed a preference for an eight, indicative of a subtle influence leading them to prioritize power and wealth over essential facets like relationships, mental health, and work-life balance.

These findings prompt a critical examination of the happiness rankings, particularly in the context of Finland’s recurrent triumph. There exists a possibility that the current ranking system predominantly reflects a narrow, wealth-centric form of happiness, potentially overlooking a more comprehensive definition. This observation does not imply that Finns are discontent; rather, it suggests that the prevailing concept of happiness they excel in might be inclined towards power and wealth.

The outcomes of our study raise pertinent questions regarding the essence of happiness that we seek to quantify. It is imperative to acknowledge that an individual’s perception of happiness cannot be imposed by researchers. Therefore, it becomes essential to engage individuals in discussions regarding their personal interpretations of happiness.

Studies indicate that individuals, when defining happiness, attribute relatively minor significance to wealth and status. While money undoubtedly plays a role, its impact is overshadowed by various other factors contributing to happiness, with robust social relationships emerging as a pivotal element.

Recent research underscores that happiness fosters enhanced productivity, with belongingness emerging as a key determinant of workplace happiness. Contrary to common belief, salary, though deemed crucial for workplace contentment, exhibits a weaker correlation with overall happiness at work. This aligns with the overarching narrative in happiness science, emphasizing the paramount importance of relationships in fostering happiness.

Research suggests that the Cantril Ladder predominantly mirrors individuals’ income levels and social standing, potentially overshadowing other vital aspects. Consequently, there is a growing consensus that supplementing the simplistic yet potent question with additional inquiries could offer a more nuanced understanding of people’s perspectives on happiness.

While our study was confined to the UK, the global relevance of this subject necessitates further research across diverse cultural contexts. The insights gleaned underscore the importance of aligning the measurement of happiness and well-being with individuals’ actual definitions and experiences of these concepts.

The Conversation

August Nilsson has no affiliations with any entity that could benefit from this article and has disclosed no relevant associations beyond their academic role.

/Courtesy of The Conversation. This content may be edited for clarity, style, and length from the original source. Mirage.News does not endorse any specific institutional stances, and all opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author(s).