Ranked: happiest countries in the world 2021

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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.

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Switzerland
  4. Iceland
  5. Netherlands
  6. Norway
  7. Sweden
  8. Luxembourg
  9. New Zealand
  10. Austria
happiest countries in the world lead image 2020
DENIS BELITSKY/SHUTTERSTOCK Finland remains the world’s happiest country

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.

Troubled Afghanistan is still ranked the unhappiest country in the world. The rest of the bottom five comprise Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Botswana and Lesotho.

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.

RankCountryScore
1Finland7.842
2Denmark7.620
3Switzerland7.571
4Iceland7.554
5Netherlands7.464
6Norway7.392
7Sweden7.363
8Luxembourg7.324
9New Zealand7.277
10Austria7.268
11Australia7.183
12Israel7.157
13Germany7.155
14Canada7.103
15Ireland7.085
16Costa Rica7.069
17UK7.064
18Czech Rep.6.965
19USA6.951
20Belgium6.834
21France6.690
22Bahrain6.647
23Malta6.602
24Taiwan6.584
25UAE6.561
26Saudi Arabia6.494
27Spain6.491
28Italy6.483
29Slovenia6.461
30Guatemala6.435
31Uruguay6.431
32Singapore6.377
33Kosovo6.372
34Slovakia6.331
35Brazil6.330
36Mexico6.317
37Jamaica6.309
38Lithuania6.255
39Cyprus6.223
40Estonia6.189
41Panama6.180
42Uzbekistan6.179
43Chile6.172
44Poland6.166
45Kazakhstan6.152
46Romania6.140
47Kuwait6.106
48Serbia6.078
49El Salvador6.061
50Mauritius6.049
51Latvia6.032
52Colombia6.012
53Hungary5.992
54Thailand5.985
55Nicaragua5.972
56Japan5.940
57Argentina5.929
58Portugal5.929
59Honduras5.919
60Croatia5.882
61Philippines5.880
62South Korea5.845
63Peru5.840
64Bosnia & Herz.5.813
65Moldova5.766
66Ecuador5.764
67Kyrgyzstan5.744
68Greece5.723
69Bolivia5.716
70Mongolia5.677
71Paraguay5.653
72Montenegro5.581
73Dominican Rep.5.545
74North Cyprus5.536
75Belarus5.534
76Russia5.477
77Hong Kong5.477
78Tajikistan5.466
79Vietnam5.411
80Libya5.410
81Malaysia5.384
82Indonesia5.345
83Congo (Rep)5.342
84China5.339
85Ivory Coast5.306
86Armenia5.283
87Nepal5.269
88Bulgaria5.266
89Maldives5.198
90Azerbaijan5.171
91Cameroon5.142
92Senegal5.132
93Albania5.117
94North Macedonia5.101
95Ghana5.088
96Niger5.074
97Turkmenistan5.066
98Gambia5.051
99Benin5.045
100Laos5.030
101Bangladesh5.025
102Guinea4.984
103South Africa4.956
104Turkey4.948
105Pakistan4.934
106Morocco4.918
107Venezuela4.892
108Georgia4.891
109Algeria4.887
110Ukraine4.875
111Iraq4.854
112Gabon4.852
113Burkina Faso4.834
114Cambodia4.830
115Mozambique4.794
116Nigeria4.759
117Mali4.723
118Iran4.721
119Uganda4.636
120Liberia4.625
121Kenya4.607
122Tunisia4.596
123Lebanon4.584
124Namibia4.574
125Palestinian Territories4.517
126Myanmar4.426
127Jordan4.395
128Chad4.355
129Sri Lanka4.325
130Swaziland4.308
131Comoros4.289
132Egypt4.283
133Ethiopia4.275
134Mauritania4.227
135Madagascar4.208
136Togo4.107
137Zambia4.073
138Sierra Leone3.849
139India3.819
140Burundi3.775
141Yemen3.658
142Tanzania3.623
143Haiti3.615
144Malawi3.600
145Lesotho3.512
146Botswana3.467
147Rwanda3.415
148Zimbabwe3.145
149Afghanistan2.523

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.

  1. Helsinki, Finland
  2. Aarhus, Denmark
  3. Wellington, New Zealand
  4. Zurich, Switzerland
  5. Copenhagen, Denmark
  6. Bergen, Norway
  7. Oslo, Norway
  8. Tel Aviv, Israel
  9. Stockholm, Sweden
  10. Brisbane, Australia

► View the complete 2020 city rankings here.

More rankings and articles can be found in our remote work area:

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► World’s worst countries to drive in
► Most peaceful countries in the world
► Best countries for women
► Poorest countries in the world – ranked
► World’s most powerful passport
► Countries with the fastest internet in the world
► Most stressed countries in the world
► Most expensive cities for expats
► World’s most democratic countries
Happiest cities in the world


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Lead image: Dreamstime

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