Life Satisfaction: Denmark, Georgia & Moldova Compared

By David McArdle & Jesse Tatum

On a roll with the life satisfaction comparisons, we were curious to place Georgia within a broader context. Using the 2006 Life Satisfaction Index (LSI), which uses subjective well-being indicators to measure people’s levels of life satisfaction and happiness, we chose Denmark, ranked the ‘happiest’ country on earth, and Moldova, the post-Soviet state considered the least happy, as the respective benchmarks (see Table 2, an abridged version of the LSI at the end of this post). Then, with data from the 2008 European Values Survey (EVS) we were able to analyze in greater depth any observations which may or may not pertain to greater life satisfaction with regard to the three divergent states.

Firstly, the EVS shows that far more Danes claim to be completely satisfied with life compared with Georgians and Moldovans. The raw numbers themselves are telling: in all, nearly 30 percent of the Danes polled claimed to be completely satisfied with life. Secondly, the EVS data revealed that over twice as many Moldovans than Georgians claimed complete life satisfaction (186 vs. 79; see Table 1). These numbers are fascinating all the more so because Moldova is ranked marginally lower on the LSI than Georgia.

For the large number of Danes completely satisfied with life, factors such as life control, stated happiness, health and national pride seem to play a more determining role compared with those completely satisfied with life in Georgia and in Moldova. The number of those who ranked religion as very important, however, did not rise with increased satisfaction.

Similar to Denmark, those completely satisfied with life in Moldova also indicated that they are more in control of life and happier compared with respondents in Georgia. The importance of religion was, as in Denmark, less acute than in Georgia.

Life Control, aka ‘agency’

It is in ‘happy’ Denmark but also, surprisingly, in ‘unhappy’ Moldova where the respondents completely satisfied in life also more often stated that they have greater control over their lives. In Georgia, however, those who are completely satisfied with life did not answer that they are also in control of it with the same frequency as in the other two countries. Feeling in control of life, then, seems to play less of a role in Georgia in terms of life satisfaction than it does in the world’s happiest country and in the least happy post-Soviet state.

In Denmark a clear majority of 72 percent of those fully satisfied with life chose marks 8–10 on the scale where ‘10’ equals complete control over one’s life. In fact, in further confirming the recent label of ‘world’s happiest’, only 25 of all the Danes polled said they were completely dissatisfied with life.

With Moldova the case for greater life control and greater life satisfaction commingling is almost as clear as in Denmark. Though far fewer people overall indicated total life satisfaction, fully 62 percent of the satisfied respondents said that they also had a great degree of control over their life. At least in Denmark and Moldova, perhaps being in control of life may help to steer one’s perceptions of life satisfaction in a positive direction.

Compared with both Denmark and Moldova, life control appears to be less of a factor in leading Georgians to higher levels of assessed life satisfaction. For example, nearly the same percentage of the respondents fully satisfied with life and those completely dissatisfied with life said they have a great deal of control over their life (38 percent vs. 36 percent).


As was duly noted in the previous blogs, the South Caucasus respondents’ answers on life satisfaction and on subjective happiness generally are not parallel. People say that they can be happy without being satisfied in life, and vice versa. But the EVS figures on Denmark appear to buck this trend, as satisfied Danes are also happy Danes. In all, 75 percent of those completely satisfied with life also asserted to be ‘very happy’.

In Moldova, too, people completely satisfied with life also answered that they were ‘very’ or ‘quite happy’ (28 percent and 63 percent, respectively). In fact, the answer patterns of Moldovans satisfied in life rose accordingly with levels of greater happiness, revealing that perhaps the two do complement each other in the country, in contrast with Georgia. In addition, this shows that although Danes are said to be happier than Moldovans in general, the responses follow a similar pattern: completely satisfied respondents in both countries also say that they have greater life control and are happier, compared with Georgia.


Life satisfaction levels and health are factors which correlated strongly in the LSI study. Similarly, the EVS data reveals that this potential link is far more pronounced in Denmark than it is in Georgia and Moldova. In Denmark 58 percent of respondents who were completely satisfied with life said too that their health was ‘very good’.

In Moldova, however, of those who feel completely satisfied in life, only 11 percent replied that they were in ‘very good’ health. The majority of the respondents (72 percent) claimed to be in either ‘good’ or ‘fair’ health. What is more, 17 percent of those who were completely satisfied in life stated that they were either in ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ health, a marginally higher number than those who considered their health to be ‘very good’.

In Georgia people with greater life satisfaction were less likely than their Danish counterparts to say they were in ‘very good’ health. For example, Georgians completely satisfied with life are more likely to be in ‘good’ (45 percent) than in ‘very good’ health (27 percent). Moreover, on the opposite end of life satisfaction, sizable numbers of Georgians completely dissatisfied with life said they were in ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ health (27 percent and 17 percent, respectively), figures which were much higher than those in Denmark.

In short, according to the combination of the responses, health could possibly be associated with helping people to fend off dissatisfaction rather than acting to yield complete life satisfaction. In Denmark a stronger linkage can arguably be made whereby very good health equates with complete life satisfaction. However, this same link between greater health and greater life satisfaction is less evident from the responses in Georgia and Moldova, as even those completely satisfied with life are more likely to see themselves in fair health than in very good health.

Pride in one’s country

If judged by the answer patterns in the three countries, greater national pride sits alongside higher life satisfaction only in Denmark, where 61 percent completely satisfied with life also are ‘very proud’ of being a Danish citizen, whereas only 1 percent of those completely satisfied said they were ‘not at all proud’ of being a citizen. In Moldova, however, being ‘very proud’ of being a national citizen was far less important for life satisfaction levels. And in Georgia nearly all indicated that they are proud of being a Georgian citizen, even for those completely dissatisfied with life (71 percent). Similar to religion, for instance, these figures show that feelings of pride in one’s country can flourish without high levels of life satisfaction.

The figures in Moldova, a country divided, reveal that both those satisfied and those dissatisfied in life were lukewarm on the issue of national pride. Overall, more people said they were still ‘very proud’ (36 percent of those completely satisfied) than otherwise, but the figures were much lower than in Denmark and Georgia, with more people choosing the second option (‘quite proud’) and higher numbers selecting ‘not very proud’, compared with the other two countries.


The Georgians, whether satisfied or not, appear to cherish religion uniformly. Completely satisfied Danes, however, seem to answer in general consensus (51 percent) that religion is not as important irrespective of life satisfaction levels. Whilst the Moldovans, more often than not, responded that religion is quite important regardless, once again, of life satisfaction scores. In other words, the importance one places on religion appears to be a country-specific issue and does not tie in with overall life satisfaction levels.


Of course there are massive political, social, and economic differences between these three countries. But we wanted to use them here as benchmarks within Europe with which to compare Georgia, as one would in other major indices (e.g. TI’s Corruption Perceptions, the Big Mac, and the Human Development Indices). In the final analysis, however, the results are still fascinating and call for further research. For this, the EVS {HL} offers a supremely user-friendly interface with which one can explore the data sets to find other factors which may help to explain why some countries are happier than others.