Indians may not be the happiest people in the world yet but happiness in India shows "steeply rising trends" as the world becomes happier by the day, suggests a new survey.
The happiest country in the world is Denmark with its democracy, social equality and peaceful atmosphere, according to the World Values Survey, funded by the US National Science Foundation.
Zimbabwe, torn by political and social strife, is the least happy, while the world's richest nation, the US, ranks 16th, according to the survey done regularly by a global network of social scientists.
It found increased happiness from 1981 to 2007 in 45 of 52 countries analysed. "In several of these countries - India, Ireland, Mexico, Puerto Rico and South Korea - there are steeply rising trends" of happiness, it said.
"I strongly suspect that there is a strong correlation between peace and happiness," said Ronald Inglehart, a political scientist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, who directed the study.
There is a strong correlation between happiness and democracy, said Inglehart. "Denmark is the happiest country in the world in our ratings," he said, noting, "Denmark is prosperous - not the richest country in the world but it is prosperous."
Many other countries also show clear trends toward rising happiness. These include Argentina, Canada, China, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, Spain and Sweden.
Three countries - the US, Switzerland and Norway - show flat trends from the earliest to latest available survey. Only four countries - Austria, Belgium, Britain and West Germany - show downward trends.
Almost five times as many countries show rising trends as downward trends. "Thus, even if we choose to read the US data as flat rather than curvilinear, it cannot be taken as a universal model: happiness actually rose in most countries for which long-term data are available," the researchers said.
Puerto Rico and Colombia also rank high, along with Northern Ireland, Iceland, Switzerland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Canada and Sweden.
"Though by no means the happiest country in the world, from a global perspective the United States looks pretty good," Inglehart said. "The country is not only prosperous; it ranks relatively high in gender equality, tolerance of ethnic and social diversity and has high levels of political freedom."
Researchers measured happiness by simply asking people how happy they were, and how satisfied they were with their lives as a whole.
Ninety-seven percent of respondents - an exceptionally high response rate - gave answers that strongly correlated with how satisfied they were with various aspects of life such as gender equality and tolerance of minorities.
"Ultimately, the most important determinant of happiness is the extent to which people have free choice in how to live their lives," Inglehart said.
Even so, researchers note that wealth is important for happiness. Not surprisingly, three of the world's poorer countries with long histories of repressive governments -Moldova, Armenia and Zimbabwe - are at the bottom of the happiness list.
Virtually all of the lowest ranking nations struggle with legacies of authoritarian rule and widespread poverty.
"The relative importance of economic prosperity to happiness changes as societies get richer," says Inglehart.
"In low-income countries, one's economic situation has a huge impact on happiness. But among more prosperous countries, political freedom and social tolerance play a greater role in determining how happy people are."
They also play a role in improving a nation's long-term happiness, he said.
The World Values Survey has measured happiness since 1981. Its researchers have interviewed more than 350,000 people.