Does happiness score goals? The Better Life Index meets the World Cup

BLIDo happy countries make great football teams? With the World Cup in full swing, we have already seen some great wins and some devastating losses. But do the performances of the players and the team reflect the situation back home?

The favourites, Brazil, definitely seem like a cheerful bunch with their colourful banners and clothes, their samba dancing, and their extravagant style of football. But looking at how they score in the 11 Better Life dimensions may give a different picture. Compared with other countries, Brazil performs well in only a few dimensions. A fact that has sparked great controversy, as 11 billion dollars were spent on the World Cup preparations, money that some argue could have gone into raising Brazil’s well-being ranking.

And what about the skilful Italians or the precise-passing Spaniards? Both are considered world champions in football but when it comes to better life they are not among the highest performers. On the other side of the post, the winning country for well-being is Australia, as it ranks above average in all aspects of well-being, except for work-life balance. Unfortunately, the Australians’ ranking in football does not match their better life ranking, and their performance so far has not been so joyful, with a 3-1 defeat by Chile.

In some cases correlations can be found between well-being and happiness. For example, Germany, which out-ranks Portugal in all the better life dimensions apart from housing, annihilated the Portuguese 4-0 in their last game, and overall they win by 10 games to 3. However this is an exception, and even if we only consider life satisfaction i.e. how happy people are with their life, the two rankings still do not add up. Although the Brazilians score a lot of goals in life satisfaction, giving a 7.2 grade to their overall satisfaction with life, many other footballing nations don’t score high. Furthermore, using the 2013 Gallup Positive Experience Index we see that four of the the top five countries (Paraguay, Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Ecuador) did not even qualify for this year’s World Cup, Ecuador being the happy exception.

Maybe more of a case can be made for the positive effects of football on a country’s happiness. In a 2012 OECD report it was found that football could improve social cohesion with programmes, such as “Goals for a Better Life” in Colombia, that promote education through football. Football also has the potential to break down social boundaries by including people of all ages, gender and ethnic background in one activity. Thailand’s new rulers believe so much in the power of football to make people happy that they have ordered free World Cup TV for the population as part of their “happiness campaign”.

On a national level, hosting an international event such as the World Cup can have benefits for the host country by improving infrastructure, increasing tourism and trade and creating a sense of national pride. Following their analysis on the impact of Football for the Socio-Economic Development of Brazil, the Fundacao Getulio Vargas, believe that if well-harnessed, the World Cup could take Brazilian football to the same position off-pitch as on the field.

There is, however, a dark side to football. Although it can foster social inclusion, it can also worsen social exclusion and can amplify existing problems such as discrimination. Also, if not done right, hosting a major event can have a negative effect on a country’s image and hinder future investments. As we have seen in Brazil, the World Cup has caused huge controversy and the jury is still out on whether or not it will be a good thing for the country.

It seems then, that the relationship between football and happiness is unclear. Happiness does not necessarily make a good football team, just as football does not make a country happy. Maybe the real joy comes from simply watching your team play, regardless of whether your country or team is doing well.

But if happiness doesn’t make a great team, what does? Is it team tactics, players’ salaries, fan support…? Decide for yourself by playing our new game where the Better Life Index meets Fantasy Football.

Fantasy football

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