Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Happiest Places Also Have The Highest Suicide Rates

By Vincent Van Gogh. From 0rchid Thief.
Some troubling news today, as Eurasia Review reports on new research that compares the happiness, both of cities and of countries, to suicide rates. It's all part of a research paper entitled "Dark Contrasts: The Paradox of High Rates of Suicide in Happy Places" from University of Warwick, Hamilton College in New York and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Researchers have previously suspected a link between national happiness data and suicide rates when it comes to Denmark, but this new study shows a similar link in Canada, the United States, Iceland, Ireland, and Switzerland. Since different cultures have different standards on reporting suicide rates, so the paper also goes into detail on happiness and suicide rates within a single geographic region--namely the United States.

Using a happiness sample of 1.3 million Americans and data on 1 million "suicide decisions," the researchers found happy states are also high in number of suicides. For instance, Utah was ranked first in life satisfaction, but showed the 9th highest suicide rate, while New York was ranked 45th in life satisfaction, yet had the lowest suicide rate in the country. Hawaii, sometimes considered the happiest state, was second on their life satisfaction list, yet had the fifth highest suicide rate.

The researchers theorize that this link happens because humans always compare themselves to those around them. In other words, living in a happy place could make unhappy people even MORE unhappy because they feel disconnected from the happy people around them. As Professor Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick says, “Those dark contrasts may in turn increase the risk of suicide. If humans are subject to mood swings, the lows of life may thus be most tolerable in an environment in which other humans are unhappy.”


  1. This makes a lot of sense, although the news is definately troubling. Would love to see the results of asuch research cinducted in even more countries!

  2. Yes, I would even wonder about how the TRULY terrible countries fit into this. Like, for instance, North Korea or some war-torn parts of Africa. If this correlation holds true, you would expect them to have the lowest suicide rates of all, though when the country is so bad that citizens have to fight for survival every day, I'm guessing that this wouldn't apply anymore. (It also feels a bit weird to be talking about suicides as data points, but I guess sometimes we have to do things like that to see where problems come from!)

  3. Yes, I think we have to. It's always best to talk about isssues and tehir origins than ignore them!