Your Happy Place

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People in happier countries more likely to commit suicide

By Keith Bonnell, Postmedia News April 26, 2011

Is being surrounded by happiness driving some people to kill themselves?

It's the suggestion being raised by a new international study that's found people living in some of the world's happiest countries -including Canada -are more likely to commit suicide.

The troubling paradox is explored in work from researchers at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom and Hamilton College in New York.

They say that a number of countries, including Canada, the United States, Iceland, Ireland and Switzerland, have "relatively high happiness levels," but also notably high suicide rates.

They suggest people struggling with self-esteem may get even more discouraged when they see others around them thriving.

"Human beings are creatures of comparison," Prof. Andrew Oswald from the University of Warwick told Postmedia News.

"(It could be that) if you feel very low with your life, it's very dangerous to be surrounded by happy people."

While the study focused on American states, Oswald said the results hold true in the Canadian suicide numbers, which he called "surprisingly high," given how well this country does on measures that indicate citizens' overall wellbeing.

The research paper is titled Dark Contrasts: The Paradox of High Rates of Suicide in Happy Places, and it's been accepted for publication in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

Canada had a suicide rate of about 23 people per 100,000, in data from 2002 that the researchers supplied.

That puts it near the middle of the pack for western countries.

However, Canada's happiness ranking was higher, in the top 20 per cent of surveyed countries.

Oswald said the study may complement pre-existing -and disputed -research that has shown suicide rates decrease when countries are at war.

"In wartime, people, even if they're depressed themselves, know that others are having difficulties in their lives."

He said it just goes to show how human beings are social creatures, always inclined to compare their own situation with that of those around them.

"It would be better if we compared less," he said.

He said he's not sure how the research can help those working in the field of suicide prevention, other than to perhaps point them toward examining the comparisons distraught people are making in their lives.

The researchers stressed that, because of cultural differences -some countries are more likely to officially record suicides than others -their international data are only "suggestive."
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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what an interesting artickle, and i really do agree with it.

i think so many people see so much happyness, they think that no one feels the way they do- hense why they take actions


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Are we 'Creatures of comparison' or just in a society where being different is wrong, where the only way to be accepted is if we are like everyone else, so change our behavior to match others. is the continual comparison natural or by pressure?


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I read somewhere (but I can't seem to find the article now) that it might also be that suicide is a luxury, in that if your struggling to survive, like in third world country conditions or times of war, you put your energy into just surviving, but when times are good and plentiful and you basic needs are met the suicide rate goes up as you no longer need to struggle just to survive, you now have the luxury to contemplate your life and if your happy or not...not sure if thats true but it seemed to have some truth in it...


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Annual suicide rate per 100,000 is 42.0 for Lithuania - the highest rate in the world according to some top ten list of nations with high rates of suicide.

Finland is on there but the rest are East European states, many former USSR ones.

No USA. UK or Canada or NZ or Australia.

Finland might have the light issue - i.e. less light there in Winter.

Third world nations have no reliable figures but suicides might be covered up easily in many nations. For example, a family might not want the 'shame' and social stigma, so a suicide becomes a 'cooking accident'.

None of the top ten richest nations are on the list!

Mr Stewart

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You need only spend a single winter in Canada to understand why the suicide rate is relatively high. It is very easy to start thinking nature really does not want you there and is actively trying to kill you. If you have any psychological problems the weather will make all of it worse. That's the case for me, anyway.

-sincerely suicidal Canadian citizen.
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