Why are the greenest countries also the happiest?
It would make sense that those who care about the environment, spend time outside, value animals, and live a more simplistic life would be happier. However, this is the first time I’ve heard of that happiness being a nationwide phenomenon. But researchers recently noticed that the greenest countries, which scored the highest when it came to environmental responsibility, were also the happiest and the most open.
The Environmental Performance Index, an index that scores countries based on sustainability, takes an aerial view of each country’s policies and practices with regards to the environment. EPI also looks at air quality, natural habitats, conservation, air pollution, emissions per capita, and the use of natural resources. The countries that ranked highest on EPI also tended to score high in certain traits on personality surveys. Researcher Jacob Hirsch of the University of Toronto found that countries which scored high in openness and compassion tended to be greener. While you would expect this on an individual level, it’s new to expect it at a nationwide level.
According to Mother Nature Network:
Giving a numerical score to something as subjective as personality traits might seem suspect on some level. Hirsch’s results, however, show there is something to his ideas. Switzerland, the top-ranked nation in the past two Environmental Protection Indexes, also scored very high in the agreeableness and openness surveys. The same relationship between personality and the EPI was seen in countries such as the U.K., Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic. These results led Hirsch to contend that a nation’s personality can help predict its environmental friendliness.
Hirsch’s findings are published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. Countries that ranked very low in happiness also tended to be less stable politically and economically.
Again, Mother Nature Network:
This begets a chicken-or-egg question: Is it the people’s personality that led to a better quality of life or the better quality of life that led to happier, more open population? For Hirsch’s theory to be relevant, the former has to be true.
Greener countries on the list included New Zealand, Italy, Poland, Iceland, Austria, and Japan. The U.S. was on the higher end of the middle–it scored high in terms of air quality and sanitation and not as well when it came to forests, fisheries, and climate. Germany was the highest ranking country with a large economy. Newly prosperous countries like China, Brazil, India, and Russia did really poorly on both lists. Some of the worst countries on the list included Somalia, Haiti, and Afghanistan. Social stability seems to definitely play a role when you look at those on the bottom. It makes sense. Trusting that your country is protecting its citizens both now and in the future from the public health threats of an unclean environment would make its citizens more trusting, happy, and open.
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Image of Switzerland from Shuttershock