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Is Europe happy? An innovative attempt to evaluate it

Is Europe happy? An innovative attempt to evaluate it


Lilia Dimova, Think Tank Agency for Social Analyses (ASA), Sofia, Bulgaria,

Martin Dimov, Gemseek Consulting Company, Sofia, Bulgaria,


ISSN: 1335-3608


We have developed our analyses based on the assumption that happiness indicates the positive emotional harmony with oneself, in particular with: a) personal status; b) living conditions and c) life perspectives. We consider the feeling of happiness registered in 2016/17 by the Eighth wave of the European Social Survey (ESS) ( – ESS Round 8. Our main research questions here are why people in different European countries feel or do not feel happy; what the main factors influencing this feeling are, what their strongest impact is, and what the main set of differences and similarities across different parts of Europe are.

To answer these questions we have constructed a happiness index on the basis of three sub-indexes – a) sub-index of happiness as positive satisfaction of personal status; b) sub-index of happiness as positive satisfaction from living environment, and c) sub-index of happiness as positive satisfaction with life perspectives – as an innovative attempt to measure quantitatively the proportion of happy people in selected number of countries, focusing on their individual profiles and the national and cultural effect.

We have selected eleven ESS European countries for the analyses: Spain, Portugal, The UK, Germany, The Netherlands, Hungary, Estonia, Norway, Sweden, Poland and The Czech Republic. The main criteria for choosing them were the following: a) geographical location (i.e. North, Central, South Europe); b) socio-political background (East and West, post-socialist vs. others); c) economic development (Mature vs. Emerging economies)

In order to ascertain those people, who were happy we have implemented a machine learning algorithm to discover the importance weight of ten key socio-demographics. Our general conclusion is that happiness is a matter of subjective satisfaction with one’s life, and that perspective differs among people and different time periods. In a cross-national context we have discovered that levels of happiness are the highest in Northern Europe, higher in Western countries as compared to Eastern ones, and higher in mature rather than in newer democracies. The most important socio-demographic factors influencing happiness are health, age, income, religion and education. They rank differently in different societies, but have a much higher demanding effect when compared to factors like sex, domicile or family composition.

In this analysis we have used the sociological interpretations of happiness. (See Tilkidgiev, 2006; Veenhoven, 2008; Durand & Exton, 2019; Dimova & Dimov, 2010; OECD, 2017; Peasgood, Foster, & Dolan, 2019). Happiness is perceived not as a transient euphoric and elated state of mind, nor a momentary flash of joy and positive mood provoked by circumstances; instead it reveals how much people are positively satisfied with what they have overall achieved in their life as a whole, to what extend they feel comfortable in their living environment, and whether they see a future in front of them with the possibilities and perspectives to realise their life goals. The stress is on positive emotions ; so that positiveness is a key point in analysing happiness.

The closest to our view is the position of Ruut Veenhoven (2008) who points out that the universally-shared understanding of happiness comes down to judging how much people like their life overalland how they assess the quality of their lifestyle. Our analyses has discovered a definite cleavage of Europe’s on a North-Central-South axis in combination with the East-West and post-socialist – old democracies and economies discrepancies.

We have registered several important correlations. The first one is the North vs. the South division, i.e. more people in the Northern countries (Norway, Sweden, The Netherlands) feel happy and satisfied with their life as a whole compared to Southern Europeans, particularly in Portugal. (The Second chapter of the World happiness report 2019 comes to the same conclusion.) Furthermore, data provides empirical evidence that income is a less important factor for happiness in wealthy Northern countries than for less well-off societies in the South. In Central Europe, age appears a little more important than health. The case of the Czech Republic, as well as Germany, has a comparatively typical distribution of variables’ which are importance towards happiness.

Empirical evidences from the ESS suggest that happiness is not equal to life satisfaction – neither in daily nor from more general perspectives. In all countries, people that feel happy are more than those who are satisfied with their lives. In other words, people can feel happy even if not totally satisfied with their life as a whole.

The happiness index demonstrates that in order for a person to be happy, they must first of all be emotionally satisfied with what they are, what they have achieved, and what they strives for – i.e. to be in harmony with themselves.

Data also suggests that the state of the economy, the state of democratization in society,  and the impact of migrants on society’s life have the highest effect on happiness within the second sub index of happiness, which relates to the satisfaction of living conditions. For life satisfaction, the same factors appear to be even stronger. In general, the living environment plays a stronger role in one’s life satisfaction than in the feeling of happiness. In both aspects, the state of economy leads the ranking with the highest correlations (respectably r=0.291 and r=0.400).

Trust in people and institutions influences both happiness and life satisfaction within the third sub index focusing on life perspectives. The highest correlations were found in relation to people’s fairness, trust in the National Parliament, trust in the Legal system and the level of the GDP.  The lowest correlation was established with trust in the European Parliament. Furthermore, we found that trust in people increases individual’s personal comfort. Trust in institutions is a way to feel secure that those institutions could guarantee opportunities for improving the standard of life and life satisfaction, respectively.

The correlations between the happiness index and the GDP underpins our thesis that happiness, as a sociological category, is formed by more long-lasting factors, not by momentary rises or falls in the economy. The registered high correlation between the happiness index and the GDP placed the post-socialist countries behind the other EU members for both happiness and the GDP.

In the European context, the strongest determinants of happiness are age, health, income, religion and education. They have different relative weight in the different countries, but invariably are the leading factors. Young, educated Europeans are happier than older ones and without any doubt those in good general health are much more receptive to happiness and dominate as numbers within the quota of happy people.

We have proven that being content with life doesn't always mean being happy, and vice-versa. The data clearly shows that happy people in all selected countries are more than those who are satisfied with their lives. Happiness is much more than just liking life in general. It is apparent that one can be happy even when her or his life is not ideal. To be happy usually means to feel confident in what you are, to feel free to express yourself in your social surroundings, to be supported and respected by people important to you, and many other things. One feels happy, when is what s/he wants to be, where likes to be and with whom is pleased to be. However, happiness means different things to different people and also means different things for the same people at different times. And this is not a paradox of happiness – it is happiness itself.

Bibliografické informácie (sk)

DIMOVA, Lilia – DIMOV,  Martin. Is Europe happy? An innovative attempt to evaluate it. In Človek a spoločnosť [Individual and Society],  2019, roč. 22, č. 4, s. 42-62. doi:

Bibliographic information

DIMOVA, Lilia – DIMOV,  Martin. Is Europe happy? An innovative attempt to evaluate it. In Človek a spoločnosť [Individual and Society],  2019, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 42-62. doi:

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