Two EU reports released this week show most Europeans are happy with their lives, despite social challenges facing the 27-nation bloc. Danes tops the happiness scale while Bulgarians say they have little reason to smile.
Smile! Europeans are happier than ever before
A Eurobarometer poll published by the European Commission this week said that 86 percent of Europeans were relatively satisfied with their personal life and everyday environment. The study said today's Europeans were happier, wealthier and living longer than their predecessors.
"Life satisfaction and happiness is higher in Europe than in any other part of the world," one of the study's authors, Frederic Lerais, told reporters in Brussels. "Life expectancy has increased and could increase a lot further, as could the possibilities of leading healthier, as well as longer lives."
However, a study of Europe's social reality published by the commission's in-house think tank said although life satisfaction and happiness were higher in Europe than in other parts of the world, EU societies were struggling to cope with immigration, ageing and a rapid shift to a "knowledge economy."
Europe's future generations face many challenges
"European societies face major social challenges," the report said. "The knowledge economy can seem threatening to those with low skills and low educational aspirations."
The report said unemployment and inactivity still blighted too many people's lives, as did unresolved problems of widespread poverty. It also pointed to new pressures facing Europeans, including problems such as dysfunctional families and anti-social behavior, mental illness, as well as new diseases of affluence. The integration of minorities was also a challenge, the report said.
The two studies are part of a public consultation by the commission to assess Europe's current social realities and trends, dubbed a "social stocktaking exercise."
Happiness is contagious
The Eurobarometer study said the most content in the bloc were the Danes, 97 percent of whom declared themselves "happy." The Dutch, Belgians, Irish and Swedes, followed by respondents from Luxembourg and Finland, were not far behind in the happy stakes.
The British, at 92 percent, were found to be happier than the French (90 percent) and the Germans (82 percent).
The happiness indicator achieved a momentum of its own, Lerais said.
"If you realize that nine and a half out of every 10 citizens around you are happy, then it makes you happy yourself," Lerais said alongside his co-author, Roger Liddle.
New EU members Romania (60 percent) and Bulgaria (39 percent) are shown as the most unhappy Europeans, although the study was taken in November and December before they joined the bloc on Jan. 1, 2007.
Europeans feel over-worked
When it came to work, though, the figures changed. The Eurobarometer study showed that the most advanced EU member states were rapidly becoming post-industrial, with manufacturing accounting for less than a fifth of all jobs in the EU as a whole.
Bulgaria joined the EU with a flourish in January
These changes were leading to "new occupational divisions" according to the report, with at least half of existing jobs demanding a high level of skills while a third of the workforce had "very few skills." Women were heavily represented in the low-skilled service sector, and gender pay-gap and career progression issues continued.
In the study, 41 percent of people agreed that their work was "too demanding and stressful." Just more than one in three disagreed.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the social stocktaking was necessary as a frame of reference for social policies.
"The modern purpose of the European Union is to enable Europe's citizens to enhance their prosperity, solidarity and security in a global age," Barroso said. "We cannot do this adequately without a common frame of reference for what is happening to our societies and a common understanding of the likely impact of the big social challenges we face."
The commission said the results may be fed into forthcoming policy initiatives.