Drum roll ... here are the top 10 happiest countries, just released in the 2021 World Happiness Report:
- New Zealand
Are you surprised? Those Scandinavian countries are at it again, with Finland topping the charts for the fourth year in a row. Denmark and Norway are also in the top six. The United States came in at number 14.
The annual World Happiness Report is compiled from survey data by the Gallup World Poll — and conducted for the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network. It ranks 149 countries on a variety of topics, as described below.
Researchers faced a unique challenge this year in trying to understand what effect the pandemic has had on subjective well-being.
Key items measured in the survey include:
- Healthy life expectancy
- Trust in one’s government
- Trust in each other
- Employment rate
- Gross domestic product
- Workforce well-being
- Social support
- Freedom to make life choices
- Sense of how corrupt their country is
“We asked two kinds of questions,” explains Jeffrey Sachs, an economist at Columbia University and one of the report’s editors. “One is about life in general — life evaluation, we call it. The other is about mood, emotions, stress and anxiety.”
The COVID-19 element
A key factor in this year’s report examined the different COVID-19 death rates across the world. Death rates were much higher in the Americas and Europe than in East Asia, Australia and Africa.
“This has been a very challenging year, but the early data also show some notable signs of resilience,” said professor Lara Aknin of Simon Fraser University, one of the report’s editors.
Factors helping to account for the variation among countries, with regard to the COVID-19 element, included the age of the population, proximity to other infected countries and whether the country is an island.
Cultural differences played a key role as well, including knowledge from previous epidemics, income inequality, confidence in public institutions and even whether lost wallets were likely to be returned.
“Of course, we’re still in the middle of a deep crisis,” Sachs continued. “But the responses about long-term life evaluation did not change decisively (from the previous year), though the disruption in our lives is profound.”
The United States, workplaces and mental health
The well-being of people living in the United States was affected by racial tensions, income inequality and more emphasis on material possessions than other countries.
Mental health, a contributing factor to well-being, has been one of the casualties of the pandemic. When the pandemic struck, there was a large and immediate decline in mental health in many countries around the world.
As one would expect with lockdowns, the pandemic has had a significant effect on workforce well-being.
“Strikingly, we found that among people who stopped work due to furlough, the impact on life satisfaction was 40 percent more severe for individuals that felt lonely to begin with,” said professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, director of the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford, and one of the report’s editors.
“The report also points toward a hybrid future of work that strikes a balance between official office life and working from home — maintaining social connections while ensuring flexibility for workers, both of which turn out to be key drivers of workplace well-being,” explains De Neve.
The unhappiest countries
Besides the happiest countries in the world, the Happiness Report also looked at places where people are the most miserable. This year, the countries of Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Jordan were ranked as some of the unhappiest countries in the world.
Rounding out the top 20
Digging a little deeper into the happiest countries, the Happiness Report reported these rankings — from number 11 to number 20:
14. United States
16. Czech Republic
18. United Kingdom
So, what’s up with Finland’s top rating for the past several years? Finnish philosopher Esa Saarinen, who was not involved in the report, thinks the Finnish character itself might help explain why the country keeps leading the index, according to the Associated Press.
“I think Finns are pretty content on some level at being just what we are,” Saarinen explains. “We don’t really have to be more.”