Photo/Illutration One hundred and nine unoccupied baby strollers are lined up outside the city hall in Lviv, Ukraine, on March 18 to call for an end to Russia’s attacks. Prosecutors said 109 Ukrainian children were killed in Russia’s invasion by March 18. (Norito Kunisue)

Finland was ranked the happiest country in the world, followed by Denmark, in the World Happiness Report 2022 published on March 18 by a U.N.-related organization.

Japan placed 54th among the 146 countries and regions covered by the report, up two notches from last year but still among the lowest in the developed world.

Sho Takano, 38, an associate professor at Fukui Prefectural University, cautioned against taking the results “too seriously as evidence that Japan is an unhappy country.”

It is difficult to measure happiness. Rankings change depending on the indicators adopted.

On top of that, Japanese tend to have a lower self-assessment than their Western counterparts, according to Takano. The report is based on how people evaluate their own lives.

Takano specializes in research on how to build happy communities.

He was inspired to study this field when he worked in Bhutan as an employee of the Japan International Cooperation Agency for three years from 2014.

He was surprised by how the country surveyed people’s happiness when he accompanied interviewers.

The interviewers spent more than two hours on each individual asking a total of 148 questions.

“How many people can you turn to for help when you fall ill?” “Do you think your family is happy?”

Takano thought it was a great approach.

“The survey provided a process for people to think about who were precious to them and what were the sources of their happiness,” he said.

But the survey has been suspended because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In Ukraine, numerous civilians are being killed in a merciless war.

We are confronting harsh realities that are threatening to destroy the basic assumptions for discussions on happiness.

The United Nations 10 years ago designated March 20 as the International Day of Happiness.

While any word we utter may sound hollow, we should ask ourselves what happiness is. This question is all the more important in this world filled with sorrow.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 20

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.