Credit: 123rf

A lot of people say money can’t buy you happiness but an online savings platform called Raisin recently did a study to find out if money and happiness are correlated by analysing data from the World Happiness Index  and the Happy Planet Index. These indexes rank a country’s wellbeing information using data like how long people live (on average), and how much access people have to clean air and green spaces.

Then the study created an “economic snapshot” of each country by calculating the number of millionaires and billionaires, plus data on Gross Domestic Product or GDP – the value of each country’s economy.

Throwing all this into a statistics blender reveals which country feels happiest when compared to their wealth. 

Which countries in the world are the happiest?

Raisin is a UK savings platform so they’ve given the data in this chart in UK Pounds Sterling.

The wealthy tax haven of Luxembourg comes top with a happy score of 292. It’s thanks to its life expectancy of 82.1 years and a Happiness Index rating of 1.5.  Luxembourg is a tiny little place stuffed with orchards, snow-capped mountains, designer shops and tax-efficient investment banks, so perhaps it’s no surprise they’re cheerful — they’ve got plenty of money to buy stuff and plenty of nice stuff to buy. 

Ireland is the second happiest country.  And third is smiling Singapore, with a happy score of 286 — even though we have a longer life expectancy than Ireland (read also: “Are Women In Singapore Happy? Results Of The Happiness Survey Out Now“).

Side note: I have a gazillion relatives in Ireland, and they don’t seem super upbeat now, what with worries about Brexit and a post-Covid recession… but perhaps the Irish respondents had a few pints of Guinness before answering questions?

Exactly how much money do you need to be happy, around the world?

*exchange rates in SGD correct as of 11/08/2020

The researchers compared costs for the 10 happiest countries in the world and discovered that $114,994.03 is the annual average you need to earn around the world to be happy. That’s a household income of around S$9,500 a month. Interestingly, in Singapore, $9,425 is the Median Household Income for working households, according to 2019 government figures. So we’re on the money!

Obviously any “research” that ties money to joy has to be taken with a pinch of salt.  It relies on people self-measuring how “happy” they are. And it doesn’t measure your family life, your attitude -— or even the weather. For example, Iceland and Belgium both have a happiness index of 1.3. Yet Iceland’s GDP is S$106,934.48 while Belgium’s is a more modest S$62, 604.12. So why are the Belgians so happy? 

Maybe it’s the weather and food? Iceland has five months of dark and snowy winter, with temperatures that drop to a low of minus 38°C.  Their most famous food is Hakarl, shark meat rotted in seawater. I ate a piece on holiday in Iceland several years ago and it tastes EXACTLY as bad as it sounds. 

In comparison, Belgium invented cream-filled chocolates, waffles, French fries and the saxophone. And they have vineyards and great beer.  Eating chips and listening to groovy jazz is more fun than slogging through snow up to your shoulders — so no wonder Belgians are happier than Icelanders, cent for cent.

More money does not automatically equal more happiness either. Norway is only number four on this happiness index, yet it has a bouncing GDP of S$119,075,75 and the largest sovereign fund in the world (US$1Trillion). People in Norway get free medical, free schooling, free or subsidised pretty much everything. So why the long faces? Are people depressed by the endless snow up in Norway?

Even the researchers admit there’s more to happiness than cash. Kevin Mountford is a finance and savings expert who co-founded Raisin UK. As he says, “Our research suggests money can ease the stresses of daily life, and subsequently allows you to buy happiness — but it’s not always the case in real life. It’s up to you to make your own happiness.”

You can see the full study here.

This article was first published in The Singpore Women’s Weekly.