When asked about life satisfaction, the average Dutch response was 7.3 on a 10 point scale. Compared with the 6.5 average of other OECD countries, the Netherlands is a contented country.
Yes? Not necessarily.
A Better Life Scale
The OECD Better Life scale is supposed to take us way beyond the GDP as a yardstick of national well-being. Ranging from years of education to work life balance, Better Life categories are quantitative and subjective.
So yes, we can say that more than three-quarters of the people aged 25-64 in the Netherlands have completed their secondary education. And life expectancy at birth is 81 years. And, at 16.8 micrograms per cubic meter, the level of PM2.5 air pollution is somewhat higher than the average.
However, we are also told that the Dutch are satisfied with their water quality level and pleased with their work life balance. In addition, survey participants indicated they knew individuals who would help them when they needed support.
It all sounds good. But we should question the accuracy of those subjective responses.
Our Bottom Line: Measuring Happiness
Imagine for a moment listening to a symphony. Until a final unexpected screech, the music is beautiful. Asked about it later, we might say the final moment ruined the experience. But really, we had enjoyed it almost entirely.
The reason for the contradiction? Explained by Nobel economics laureate Daniel Kahneman, we have an experiencing self and a remembering self.
Happiness research gets even more complicated when you consider sequence. Assume you twice won a lottery. If first you won $10,000 and then $100, you might report less happiness than with the reverse order. The total though is the same.
So, when the Dutch report above average life satisfaction, their well-being might not be as good as it sounds.
My sources and more: Providing a series of variables for judging well-being, this FT article is ideal. It serves as a springboard that leads to more OECD data in their Better Life Index. But also, there might be a more accurate way to quantify happiness.