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Global happiness report: Nordic nations dominate the list, while U.S. loses ground

REUTERS/Alexander Kuznetsov
Finland has been found to be the most stable, the safest and the best-governed country in the world.

Finland has the happiest people in the world, according to the 2018 “World Happiness Report,” which was released this week by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solution Network in advance of the International Day of Happiness on March 20. 

The Finns knocked Norway out of the top slot this year, but it’s not much of a comedown. Norway still holds on to second place. Filling out the rest of this year’s top 10 happiest countries are (in order) Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia.

All of those countries have been in the top 10 for the past three years. And, yes, Nordic countries do seem to be well represented in that group. They repeatedly score highly in regard to the six key factors used for the UN’s annual happiness rankings: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.

Finland, for example, has been found to be the most stable, the safest and the best-governed country in the world. Its 5.5 million people can also make claim to the most independent judicial system — and the least organized crime. 

“In the Nordic countries in general, we pay some of the highest taxes in the world, but there is wide public support for that because people see them as investments in quality of life for all,” Meik Wiking of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark, told Guardian reporter Patrick Collinson. “Free healthcare and university education goes a long way when it comes to happiness.”

“In the Nordic countries, Bernie Sanders is not viewed as progressive — he is just common sense,” Wiking added.

U.S. slips in the rankings

Burundi in east Africa is the unhappiest place in the world, according to the report, followed by the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Tanzania, Yemen, Rwanda, Syria, Liberia, Haiti and Malawi. 

The country that fell the furthest in the rankings this year was Venezuela, which dropped 20 places to 102nd. It has been experiencing a humanitarian crisis and civil unrest in the wake of a severe economic downfall.

But the United States also lost significant ground in the U.N.’s happiness rankings, falling four slots — to 18th — just above Great Britain. That is our worst showing since the U.N. began publishing its annual “World Happiness Report” in 2012.  

The U.S. has never made it into the top 10. 

“Governments are increasingly using indicators of happiness to inform their policy-making decisions,” writes one of the report’s editors, the American economist Jeffrey Sachs, in a released statement. “U.S. policymakers should take note. The U.S. happiness ranking is falling, in part because of the ongoing epidemics of obesity, substance abuse and untreated depression.” 

Another major reason for our fall in the rankings is the fact that we have greater income inequality than other rich countries — a factor that can greatly impact people’s sense of fairness and well-being.

Happiness of migrants

This year’s U.N. report also looked specifically at the happiness of immigrant communities around the world. Once again, Finland came out on top. Indeed, all 10 of the overall happiest countries were among the top 11 countries when it came to immigrant happiness. 

The newcomer in this instance was Mexico, which was listed 10th for immigrant happiness, although its overall happiness ranking was 24th. 

“The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born,” said John Helliwell, one of the report’s co-editors and an economist at the University of British Columbia, in a released statement

“Although immigrants come from countries with very different levels of happiness, their reported life evaluations converge towards those of other residents in their new countries,” he added. “Those who move to happier countries gain, while those who move to less happy countries lose.”

As background information in the report points out, an estimated 244 million people live in a country other than the one in which they were born, including 24 million refugees.

FMI: You can read the U.N. “World Happiness Report” on the agency’s website.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 03/16/2018 - 01:32 pm.

    A question

    Because the article is ambiguous.

    Is the ranking based on how the people in each country actually feel, or is it an objective analysis of the six indicated factors, with the outcome denominated by the study authors as “Happiness”? If the latter, it’s misleading. And the former would be much more interesting.

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