International Lifestyle

Malaysia ranked 8th ‘LEAST miserable country’! Sure or not?

Malaysia’s had a really tough 2014. Considering what’s happened in the last 12 months – rising cost of living, plane tragedies, up-down petrol prices, worst flood ever, corruption reports, etc. yep, life threw us a lot of lemons.

So when we found this study, Cato Institute’s Misery Index 2014, we were surprised to find out that Malaysia is the 8th…..LEAST miserable country in the world? Whaaa?!?

Wait how does this study work? Steve Hanke, professor of Applied Economics at Johns Hopkins University (who expanded on the original Arthur Okun misery index) explained the metrics:
kathy bates misery meme.

We’re kidding! Here’s the REAL methodology:

Interest rate + Inflation + Unemployment – Per capita GDP growth = MISERY

So the Misery Index ranked 108 countries using data from Economist Intelligence Unit for those 4 economic factors. To view the whole chart, click here.


So who’s the most and least miserable according to the report?

Venezuela is the MOST miserable country for the second year in a row! Apparently the reason why they’re so miserable according to Business Insider, is because the price of oil (which makes up 95% of Venezuela’s exports) has dropped more than HALF! In other words, their government is running out of money! Poor Venezuela.

And the LEAST miserable country is Brunei! Whoa, our tiny neighbour from Borneo Island, who knew. But how da heck is a country with only ONE McDonald’s outlet the least miserable (don’t even get us started on the time they reopened after renovations)? Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that their people don’t pay income tax, sales tax and there are loopholes for companies to avoid corporate tax, according to Nathan Vanderklippe report in The Globe and Mail.

The one only McDonald's in Brunei. Image from

The one and only McDonald’s outlet in Brunei. Image from

OK back to Malaysia… overall, we’re considered economically ‘happy’ based on the Misery Index. Singapore is right below us as 9th least miserable country in the world (haha, at least we’re 0.08 points happier than them), but poor Indonesia is probably feeling gloomy about being the 46th most miserable country.

Based on the data, unemployment and interest rates seem to be the top reasons that made nations miserable.

Hmm. Can believe or not this so-called Misery Index or would it be wise to take it with secubit garam? If Japan and South Korea are so ‘happy’ as the figures show, then why are they among countries with the highest suicide rates in the world? And more importantly is Malaysia really happy?


Two things you probably noticed:

No. 1 the Misery Index is purely economic based.

No. 2 social and political factors are left out of the study.

Argh! If we added them in, would it affect our ‘happiness’ score? No need to guess. There is a study called the World Happiness Report 2013 conducted by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which we cross referenced.

What's the difference between abolishing GST and zero-rating it?

Instead of measuring misery, let’s measure happiness

UN World Happiness 2013 Malaysia

Screenshot from World Happiness 2013.

So we thought we’d take a different view and try measuring happiness instead. The UN’s World Happiness Report goes in the opposite direction of the Misery Index! Here’s a screenshot of our ‘happiness’ report above. Malaysia is at No. 56 with 5.760 points. On a scale of 0 to 10, that means we’re HALF happy!

This report was more comprehensive in that it measures 6 diverse factors. What they did was use Gallup poll to survey citizens on:

  • GDP per capita
  • Healthy life expectancy
  • Social support (having someone to count on)
  • Freedom to make life choices
  • Perceptions of corruption
  • Generosity.

So Denmark is the happiest, Togo is unhappiest and we know you guys wanna know Singapore’s score. They’re way above us at 30. Indonesia is below us at 76, while Brunei which was apparently the LEAST miserable country in the World Misery Index is not even in this study.

What we can gather from this is that the results of the Misery Index and World Happiness Report for Malaysia tell us 2 very different stories! But with WIDER factors – economic, social and political – taken into account in the second study, we’d say it probably reflects Malaysians’ sentiments a bit more closely than the first.

So are Malaysians really happy?

Image from Inmagine.

Image from Inmagine.

Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Mohamad Hanadzlah said measuring GDP alone (which we’ve been doing for decades) is not enough.

“To improve on this ranking, it is important that we work on improving the 7 components of wellness: economic, environmental, physical, mental, workplace, social and political.” – Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Mohamad Hanadzlah, Second Finance Minister, The Star

Isn’t it so true though? If we were to put it to you in a sentence like this…

‘Malaysians are unhappy because __________________________________.’

… you could probably fill in the blanks with 1,000 and 1 things, simply because the subject of ‘happiness’ is so BROAD and DIVERSE. One thing we do know for a fact is that 2 in 3 Malaysians would prefer happiness in their jobs (i.e. work-life balance) over salaries and job titles, according to a survey by Kelly Global Workforce Index!

Of course it’s nice to have indicators like the Misery Index and World Happiness Report. But at the end of the day but someone else’s perception of ‘happy’ is different from your perception of ‘happy’.

So what makes us Malaysians happy? We’ve provided a diverse list of answers here but we’re not sure if that’s enough to make you happy.


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