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Happy Europeans

DPA news agency (win)November 19, 2008

Wealth does not automatically make people in Europe happier, according to a quality-of-life survey conducted in all 27 European Union member states. But it certainly plays an important role.

A smiley face in front of an EU flag
Danes and Finns are Europe's happiest people, according to the surveyImage: AP Graphics/DW

The study, released on Wednesday, Nov. 19 shows that other factors, such as social environment and health, also contribute greatly to levels of satisfaction.

The happiest Europeans are the Danes and Finns, according to the findings of a representative survey of 30,000 EU citizens. At the other end of the scale, Hungary and Bulgaria returned the lowest satisfaction rates.

Germans, Czechs and Slovaks lie at what might be called the happy medium, while the French, British and Spanish reported above-average satisfaction with their lot in life. In Poland, Austria and especially in Italy, people had more to grumble about.

"Countries with high incomes do very well in terms of satisfaction in life," said Branislav Mikulic of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound).

Money isn’t everything

Stacks of euro bank notes
At some point, money becomes irrelevantImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

However, happiness and satisfaction didn't rise in line with the bank balance.

"Once a certain level of happiness has been reached, money no longer plays a great role in improving quality of life," he said.

As an example, Mikulic cited the Nordic countries, where people on different income levels reported similar levels of happiness.

The Danes, Finns, Swedes and Dutch, all of whom scored at the top of the happiness index, considered tensions between rich and poor to be negligible in their respective countries. In Germany, France, Poland and Austria, the gap between rich and poor was more keenly felt.

Real problems in the east

A steaming pot of soup
Some eastern Europeans don't have enough to afford a warm meal every dayImage: BilderBox

In the countries which joined the EU after 2004, fewer people can afford even the simple things in life. In most of the new EU states, more than 15 percent of respondents said they had too little money to heat their home or eat a warm meal with fish or meat every other day. Poorer people also faced a tougher family life.

The survey reveals that many EU citizens feel ill.

"Not many people in the EU judge their state of health as good," said Robert Anderson, of the research team. This is crucial, since family and health are considered the greatest factors for happiness.

Upbeat Germans

Life quality is generally rated higher within the private sphere than the social context. Many Europeans complain about air pollution and noise, ethnic tensions or criminality.

Despite all the problems cited, most participants in the survey, conducted between September 2007 and February 2008, were optimistic about the future. Germans were exceptionally positive, while Hungary was the only country dominated by pessimists.

In March the EU foundation plans to release a full evaluation of the survey, comparing the data to the initial study undertaken in 2003.