For the sixth consecutive year, Finland has been named the happiest country in the world. We take a look at the latest report
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.
Ever since 2011, when the United Nations (UN) adopted a resolution sponsored by Bhutan, entitled ‘Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development’, governments have worked to give more weight to happiness and well-being when determining how to achieve and measure social and economic development.
As such, various indices attempt to rank the happiest countries in the world on an annual basis. Now in its 11th year, the World Happiness Report from the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) is particularly interesting as it ranks 137 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be.
“A decade ago, governments around the world expressed the desire to put happiness at the heart of the global development agenda, and they adopted a UN General Assembly resolution for that purpose. The World Happiness Report grew out of that worldwide determination to find the path to greater global well-being. Now, at a time of pandemic and war, we need such an effort more than ever. And the lesson of the World Happiness Report over the years is that social support, generosity to one another, and honesty in government are crucial for well-being. World leaders should take heed. Politics should be directed as the great sages long ago insisted: to the well-being of the people, not the power of the rulers.”Jeffrey Sachs, World Happiness Report
The SDSN employs an international group of economists, neuroscientists and statisticians to survey citizens on their subjective well-being to produce a comprehensive annual list of the happiest countries in the world.
SDSN highlights that its rankings are not an index like the longer-running Human Development Index (HDI) and the more recent Happy Planet Index (HPI). These are often influenced by private sponsors and only partly draw 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 well-being data. The report draws on interviews with over 100,000 people across 137 countries.
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?”World Happiness Report
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.
10 happiest countries
Once again, Finland has been named the happiest country in the world. Rounding out the rest of the top 10 are the same countries as last year, just shuffled around slightly.
10 unhappiest countries
At the other end of the table, war-scarred Afghanistan remains last as its humanitarian crisis continues to deepen after the Taliban returned to power in 2021.
The geography of happiness
Unsurprisingly, there is a strong correlation between unhappiness and the world’s poorest and most dangerous countries. Eight of the 10 unhappiest nations are in Africa with the other two, Afghanistan and Lebanon, respectively facing political and financial instability.
Eight of the 10 happiest countries are European nations with only Israel and New Zealand from outside Europe. The UK has dropped two places to 19th while the USA is ranked 15th, up one place from last year. Canada, in 13th, is the highest-ranked country in the Americas. France dropped one spot to 21st. Australia remained in 12th.
The highest-ranked country in the Middle East is the UAE (26) with Singapore (25) and Taiwan (27) the happiest countries in Asia. Costa Rica (23) is the happiest in Latin America with Uruguay (28) the highest-placed in South America. Mauritius (59) is the happiest African nation in the ranking.
Interestingly, the pandemic does not appear to have affected people’s happiness. Instead, the study found significantly higher levels of benevolence in all global regions than before the pandemic. And when asked to evaluate their lives on a scale of one to 10, people on average gave scores just as high in the 2020-22 pandemic years as in 2017-19.
Another fascinating anomaly is that in Ukraine, recorded goodwill rose to record levels with high scores for donations and the helping of strangers while, conversely, it fell significantly in Russia.
“The devastating impact of the war is evident to all, and so we also find that well-being in Ukraine has taken a real hit”, noted Jan-Emmanuel De Neve of the Wellbeing Research Centre, University of Oxford.
“But what is surprising, however, is that well-being in Ukraine fell by less than it did in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, and this is thanks in part to the extraordinary rise in fellow feeling across Ukraine as picked up in data on helping strangers and donations – the Russian invasion has forged Ukraine into a nation” added De Neve.
Happiest countries in the world 2023 – 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.
|71||Bosnia & Herzegovina*||5.633|
|82||Hong Kong SAR||5.308|
* Countries that do not have data from 2022. Their scores are based on the 2021 report.
Top 10 happiest cities
In 2020, the report also ranked individual cities by residents’ perception of their own well-being. Unsurprisingly, Finland’s capital Helsinki was in first position.
- 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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