Finland tops the rankings of the happiest countries in the world for the fourth year running
Happiness is a nebulous thing; hard to grasp and harder to hold onto. Scientists, economists and philosophers have defined it through the ages as a combination of different things, among them health, wealth, companionship and security.
Various indices attempt to rank the happiest countries in the world on an annual basis. The UN-sponsored World Happiness Report from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) is particularly interesting as it ranks 149 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be.
The SDSN employs an international group of economists, neuroscientists and statisticians to survey citizens on their subjective wellbeing to produce a comprehensive annual list of the happiest countries in the world.
Happiness during a year like no other
The 2021 World Happiness Report had the unique challenge of trying to make sense of the relationship between subjective well-being and Covid-19.
Mental health is one of the casualties both of the pandemic and of the ensuing lockdowns. When the pandemic struck, there was a large and immediate decline in mental health in many countries around the world.
“We need urgently to learn from Covid-19. The pandemic reminds us of our global environmental threats, the urgent need to cooperate, and the difficulties of achieving cooperation in each country and globally. The World Happiness Report 2021 reminds us that we must aim for wellbeing rather than mere wealth, which will be fleeting indeed if we don’t do a much better job of addressing the challenges of sustainable development.”– Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, President of SDSN
SDSN highlights that its rankings are not an index like the longer running Human Development Index (HDI) and more recent Happy Planet Index (HPI). These are often influenced by sponsors and draw only partly on self-assessment – or make no use of it at all.
SDSN emphasises that its findings draw heavily on data from population samples in each country, using a life evaluation survey to produce subjective wellbeing data.
The report principally relies on asking a straightforward, subjective question of more than 1,000 people in each country:
Imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top.
The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?
That is not to say the report is without a scientific basis. Economic and social factors are considered along with the survey (namely GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and perceptions of corruption), but the focus is on how happy citizens say they are; not how happy statisticians think they should be.
Top 10 happiest countries
Once again, Finland is named the happiest country in the world. Rounding out the rest of the top 10 are countries that have consistently ranked among the happiest.
- New Zealand
The geography of happiness
Unsurprisingly, there is a strong correlation between unhappiness and the poorest and most dangerous countries. Nine of the top 10 happiest countries are European nations with only New Zealand from outside Europe.
The UK is ranked 17th, down from 13th last year, while the USA is ranked 19th, down one place from last year.
The report highlighted that there was a “significantly higher frequency of negative emotions” in over a third of the countries, likely due to the effects of the pandemic.
However, happiness did improve for 22 nations. Numerous Asian countries fared better than last year’s ranking, including China which moved up to 84th from 94th place.
Happiest countries in the world 2021 – complete rankings
The World Happiness Report compiles data from the last three years of available surveys. The overall happiness scores are calculated from the average of the six factors mentioned above.
|64||Bosnia & Herz.||5.813|
Top 10 happiest cities
Last, the happiness report ranked individual cities by residents’ perception of their own well-being. Unsurprisingly, Finland’s capital Helsinki was in first place.
- Helsinki, Finland
- Aarhus, Denmark
- Wellington, New Zealand
- Zurich, Switzerland
- Copenhagen, Denmark
- Bergen, Norway
- Oslo, Norway
- Tel Aviv, Israel
- Stockholm, Sweden
- Brisbane, Australia
► View the complete 2020 city rankings here.
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