What’s the happiest place in the world? According to the newest World Happiness Report released by the UN, it’s Finland. The Republic of Finland managed to push out Norway from the top spot where it was last year. The number two spot on the list goes to Denmark, followed up by Iceland in the number three slot, with Switzerland in fourth place.
Tracking World Happiness
The World Happiness Report is a yearly report released by the United Nations division The Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The report ranks 156 different countries by their levels of happiness. The report also covers the happiness of immigrants ffrom117 different countries. Six primary variables are tracked within the report: freedom, life expectancy, social support, income, trust, and generosity.
According to John Halliwell, the report’s co-editor and economics professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Switzerland have consistently placed in the top six slots for the world happiness report ever since the first report was released in 2012.
The world happiness report analyzes “subjective well-being”. The report tracks subjective well-being by asking thousands of people across the 156 different countries a subjective question. The question asks the respondent to imagine a ladder with rungs numbered 0 to 10. The bottom of the latter represents the worst possible life you can conceive of, while the top of the latter represents the best possible life for you. The respondents are then asked to say which rung of the ladder they feel they are currently on.
In Finland, the average score is approximately 7.6. Finland also ranked quite high in the individual categories such as safety, economic security, life expectancy, and freedom. The UN report suggests that it is amongst the best governed and most stable countries in the world and that it has some of the lowest levels of corruption out of any country. The country is also noted for being amongst the most socially progressive countries in the world.
A special focus of this year’s report was the happiness of immigrants in countries around the world. The happiness of immigrants in a country seems to be highly correlated with the country’s general happiness, as the 10 happiest countries in the world also filled in the top 10 of 11 slots within the immigrant happiness category. Finland itself is home to approximately 300,000 immigrants as of a census in 2016, and the country is home to approximately 5 1/2 million people.
Helliwell says that there is a “remarkable consistency” between the happiness of native-born citizens and the happiness of immigrants. Even though immigrants may come from countries around the world with varying levels of happiness, the level of happiness that they report tends to converge towards the satisfaction level of the other residents in the country they immigrate to.
How Other Countries Ranked
The Nordic countries, in general, score highly on happiness ratings and other measures of well-being such as economic security and trust. Nonetheless, Finland appears to have achieved something quite special by taking the top slot, according to Meik Wiking at the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark. Wiking notes that Finland’s GDP is lower than the other Nordic countries and that it is substantially lower than a country like the United States. This suggests that Finland is proficient at converting the wealth they do have into well-being. Wiking says the Nordic countries have wide levels of public support for subsidized university education and free healthcare because people perceive them as systems which enhance the quality of life for everyone.
The report also contained a special section on the happiness level of the United States, which has dropped in happiness since last year dropping four spots from 14th place to 18th place. Jefferey D. Sachs, co-editor of the report and director of Columbia University’s Center for Sustainable Development argues that the US has fallen in the happiness due to various causes like substance abuse issues and lack of treatment options for depression. Sachs says that governments around the world are placing a higher emphasis on indicators of happiness when creating policies and that US policymakers “should take note”.
Said Jeffrey Sachs:
America’s subjective wellbeing is being systematically undermined by three interrelated epidemic diseases, notably obesity, substance abuse (especially opioid addiction) and depression.
The United States is not the only major power to fail to make it into the top 10 happiest countries. The United Kingdom was ranked 19th in terms of overall happiness, Germany came in 15th place, Japan ranked 54th place, and China was ranked 86th.
Which places in the world report being the least happy? Countries like Yemen, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Burundi report having the lowest happiness levels in the world. These developing nations score low on the six different indicators of well-being as well. Despite neighboring nations in West Africa having low happiness scores, Togo managed to rise approximately 18 places in terms of happiness, making it the biggest improvement in the entire 2018 report. Meanwhile, the biggest recorded drop in happiness was Venezuela, which currently resides near the middle of the list.
Happiness Trends And Correlations
Other interesting trends the report noted include the fact that Latin American countries generally rank higher than their GDP should imply. This is especially notable when compared to countries in East Asia which are rapidly expanding. In China, even though millions of people have left the Chinese countryside for city life and higher GDP, their happiness level has not significantly increased.
As mentioned, the report doesn’t just track subjective well-being, it also tracks more empirical measurements of well-being. Max Roser, of the data analysis website Our World In Data, has analyzed the results of the World Happiness Index alongside other sources of data regarding well-being such as the World Value Survey and the Pew Global Attitude Survey.
Roser’s analysis concludes that at least three different variables are positively correlated with happiness and life satisfaction: income, health, and freedom. People on average tend to be happier when living in a country with economic success, they tend to be happier when they are in good mental and physical health, and they tend to be happier when they have more freedom to make choices about their own lifestyles. In general, individual life events don’t have massive impacts on happiness, as people tend to gravitate back towards a baseline, though certain events like marriage can have longterm correlations with happiness.