This paper examines a famous puzzle in social science. Why do some nations report such high happiness? Denmark, for instance, regularly tops the league table of rich nations’ well-being; Great Britain and the US enter further down; France and Italy do relatively poorly. Yet the explanation for this ranking — one that holds even after adjustment for GDP and socio-economic and cultural variables — remains unknown. We explore a new avenue. Using data on 131 countries, we document a range of evidence consistent with the hypothesis that certain nations may have a genetic advantage in well-being.
My vague impression from spending a few days in Paris a long time ago is that simple happiness isn’t really the chief goal of Parisians, somewhat like how New Yorkers are more likely to have urges that are difficult to mutually satisfy — e.g., it’s not just that I must win but also that others must lose; and third parties must recognize my triumph and their ignominious defeat. This makes for interesting novels, but not necessarily broadly high levels of happiness.