Freedom and Happiness in Nations: A Research Synthesis

An Erratum to this article was published on 29 August 2017

This article has been updated

Abstract

Freedom is highly valued, but there are limits to the amount of freedom a society can allow its members. This begs the question of how much freedom is too much. The answers to that question differ across political cultures and are typically based on ideological argumentation. In this paper, we consider the compatibility of freedom and happiness in nations by taking stock of the research findings on that matter, gathered in the World Database of Happiness. We find that freedom and happiness are positively correlated in contemporary nations. The pattern of correlation differs somewhat across cultures and aspects of freedom. We found no pattern of declining happiness returns, which suggests that freedom has not passed its maximum in the freest countries.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Change history

  • 29 August 2017

    An erratum to this article has been published.

Notes

  1. 1.

    The six determinants are GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, generosity, freedom from corruption, and freedom to make life choices. Together, these six variables explain 74% of the variation (adjusted R-squared) in the national annual average ladder scores of countries (Helliwell et al. 2017).

  2. 2.

    A full description of the construction of the index is available at: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world-2016/methodology

  3. 3.

    This proposition, as well as the one in the previous paragraph are not new, and are built on past theories and literature that are not within the scope of our study. The publications by Inglehart, Welzel, and Klingemann are the most relevant to our study as they also provide empirical evidence of the human development syndrome. A detailed theoretical background is available in Welzel et al. (2003) and Welzel (2013).

  4. 4.

    The happiness measure used is the average response to the Cantril ladder question, which asks respondents to rate their quality of life on a scale of 0 to 10, with higher values meaning higher levels of happiness. It is the average response for the years 2013–2015, obtained from the World Happiness Report 2016 (Helliwell et al. 2016). The measure of economic freedom is on a scale from 1 to 10, where higher values indicate higher levels of economic freedom, obtained from the Economic Freedom of the World Report 2015 (Gwartney et al. 2015). The measure of perceived freedom is on a scale of 1 to 10, with higher values meaning higher levels of perceived freedom. It is obtained from the sixth wave of the World Values Survey, conducted in the years 2012–2014, and is described in detail in Section 2.3 above.

  5. 5.

    The link to the WDH finding page for the relationship between economic freedom and happiness in Gehring (2013) is: http://worlddatabaseofhappiness.eur.nl/hap_cor/desc_cor.php?sssid=24018

  6. 6.

    This distinction is stated in the page that lists the research findings on the World Database of Happiness, accessible from the table by Control + Click on the symbols representing each association.

  7. 7.

    Findings in the World Database of Happiness: http://worlddatabaseofhappiness.eur.nl/hap_cor/desc_cor.php?sssid=24018

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Correspondence to Amanina Abdur Rahman.

Additional information

The original version of this article was revised: modifications have been made to Tables 2, 3, and 4, captions to Figs. 2 and 3, and hyperlinks to the findings pages on the World Database of Happiness in page 11. Full information regarding corrections made can be found in the erratum for this article.

Ruut Veenhoven is on the Editorial Policy Board of the Applied Research in Quality-of-Life journal, and one of the Board of Directors of the International Society of Quality-of-Life Studies.

Appendices

Appendices

Appendix 1: Measures of Economic Freedom

Table 5 Measures of economic freedom

Appendix 2: Measures of Political Freedom

Table 6 Measures of political freedom

Appendix 3

Fig. 3
figure3

Example of a findings page in the World Database of Happiness

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Abdur Rahman, A., Veenhoven, R. Freedom and Happiness in Nations: A Research Synthesis. Applied Research Quality Life 13, 435–456 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-017-9543-6

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Keywords

  • Freedom
  • Happiness
  • Nations
  • Synthesis
  • World Database of Happiness