Well-being – Happiness – Life satisfaction – Locus of control

Nearly half of the Dutch and Icelanders are very happy with their life. A majority in Romania, Russia, Ukraine, and Bulgaria, however, are unhappy. This could be explained by the large difference in living standards between these countries, but this is apparently not the whole story as the inhabitants of the ‘poorest’ European country, Albania, put themselves on the happy side of life.


Chart of Happiness, Source: Atlas of European Values

Well-being or happiness is the individual judgment of the overall quality of one’s life, the result of weighing one’s mental and health state against one’s aspirations and expectations. Happiness has been said to be a too complex phenomenon to understand or a too personal one. We are simply born happy or unhappy: the Irish are dead optimistic by nature and the Russians just chronically murky. Others have argued that happiness largely depends on comparison with reference groups. Well-being has no absolute value. We are ‘insatiable’ when it comes to happiness, but we also ‘adjust’ to unhappiness. What makes people happy differs from time to time, and from place to place. Nevertheless, the European Values Study shows that happiness is higher in nations characterized by the rule of law, freedom, civil society, cultural diversity and modernity (schooling, technology, urbanization). Together with material comfort, these factors explain almost all differences in happiness across nations.

The results of the European Values Study also confirms a well-known notion in psychology that people are happier when they feel they have some control over the way their life turns out. In psychology, this feeling of being in control is known as the locus of control and is considered an important aspect of one’s personality. Individuals with an external locus of control believe that life is guided by faith, luck or other external circumstances. Their own behavior doesn’t matter very much; rewards in life are considered outside of their control. On the contrary, individuals with a strong internal locus of control believe that life is steered by their own personal decisions and efforts: life is what you make it.

Chart Freedom of Choice, Source: Atlas of European Values


Chart Happiness, satisfaction, and control, Source: Atlas of European Values