According to a recent major world survey, happiness in Ukraine, along with the rest of the post-Soviet nations, rates near the bottom of the selected countries that were surveyed and ranked. The survey authors have posited that Ukrainians are unhappy because of poverty and because they are comparing themselves to Western European nations.
Financial Hardship and the Happiness Paradox
At the same time they also claim that United States is unhappy because it's so materialistic. I think it's simplistic to assume that unhappiness comes from the fact that people who are richer simply want more, although that's probably a factor. It's also simplistic to assume that post-Soviet people are unhappy simply because they are comparing themselves to Europe, as some have posited, although that's probably a factor as well. (In terms of national income levels most post-Soviet nations are at, close to or above the level of income during Soviet times, so comparison to the past is probably not a major factor anymore.) I doubt there is much to support the conjecture that materialism and envy is mainly to blame for unhappiness in US or the post-Soviet world.
I think there are deeper and more fundamental factors these surveyors need to look at. If I were to make a guess, I would guess that the poor (and rich) nations that have the highest levels of happiness also happen to be the nations with the strongest families (high percentage of marriages, low divorce rates, birth rates above replacement levels, etc.) and higher religiosity levels as well. There are many research studies showing these two factors being closely connected to levels of happiness, and that shouldn't be suprising given how important relationships are to human happiness - both strong relationships with people and a sense of a transcendent connection to a Higher Power. And those two factors also reinforce each other. More religious nations have stronger families and nations with a stronger culture of the family also tend to be more religious. Welfare states can take mitigate the poverty problem to some extent, but they can never replace a loving family.
So, while the United States is richer than Denmark, Switzerland and Austria, its divorce rate is also higher, so the people are less happy. There is significant psychological research showing that people who divorce tend to remain just as unhappy decades later as they were immediately prior to their divorce. (And those who considered divorce but decided to work it out are actually happier than those who never had serious relationship problems. Psychology Today did a major report on this a couple years ago.) And Switzerland which has the highest level of happiness also has dramatically lower rates of divorce than either US or Ukraine - only 25%. http://www.divorcemag.com/statistics/statsWorld.shtml
The scholars who posit that wealth increases happiness are correct, but only to a point. For example, in US the happiest people are in the middle class, not in the upper middle or upper classes. Basically, levels of happiness tend to increase until they hit about $50,000-60,000 of family income, after which the level of happiness slowly declines with every dollar of increase in family income. (If you are interested in reading more on this particular topic, I would recommend a book by David G. Myers called "An American Paradox".) So, the optimal level of income that tends to support the highest levels of happiness is in the middle class of the nation that you live in. The middle class is important not just as the guarantor of democracy and stability, but it is also important in insuring national happiness. It would follow that nations that have a large middle class will tend to be happier nations than those that have great disparities of incomes, as in the communist and former communist nations.
Another factor to consider is the size of the country. It would seem to me that people in smaller countries tend to be happier than people in larger nations. After all, the happiest countries of Denmark, Switzerland and Austria are all rather small countries, all with populations under 10 million. That would be an interesting relationship to study.
The Philippines, India and Iran are happier than Moldova or Ukraine, because of greater social capital (family) and spiritual capital (experience of transcendence and/or community of faith). After so many years of communist rule, much of both social and spiritual capital has been destroyed in post-Soviet societies. China has seen a major drop in happiness, and much of it can be explained by the same factors. The reality is that where the state used to replace the family (state-run daycare, youth organizations, homes for the elderly, etc.) and the church (communist propaganda, official triumphant atheism), today it doesn't do that anymore to any significant extent. And Chinese families are beginning to disintegrate along with economic development, as divorce rates in China have doubled in just a few years. And there isn't much spirituality left after communism. Which is why underground Christian movements are booming in China, as documented by formed TIME Magazine Bejing Bureau head, David Aikman in his last book, "Jesus in Bejing": http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Beijing-Christianity-Changing-Balance/dp/0895261286 . The same thing is happening in Ukraine, except that given the high degree of religious freedom in Ukraine, Christians in Ukraine are not underground, but actually quite open and public.
To sum it up, Ukrainians are unhappy because:
1. They are poor - the Ukrainian economy is behind the rest of Europe at this point in history. The closer Ukrainians get to middle income nations, the happier they will get.
2. Ukraine's middle class is still fairly small and undeveloped. The middle class is the happy class. As it grows, Ukraine's happiness levels will grow.
3. Ukrainians are seeing a high disparity of income levels developing in the post-Soviet period. This creates negative tensions in society and is not good for harmonious social development. A strong family life tends to create a major offsetting effect for this phenomenon.
4. Ukrainian family life is quite unhealthy. The nation is experiencing a high level of relational rejection as seen in high rates of divorce, coupled with a very low birth rate, one of the lowest in the world. A strong culture of the family is needed for the formation of significant stores of social capital in Ukraine.
5. Ukraine's spiritual capital was seriously damaged during the years of Communist rule, although not as heavily damaged as in Russia. There's a much greater degree of religious freedom and the rates of growth of churches and religious organizations in Ukraine are much higher than most of the rest of the former Soviet Union. And this portends well for Ukraine's future.