5 Countries with the Happiest People (and Why)
Happiness is quite subjective from person to person, but there are ways people have determined the overall measure of happiness across countries. The most notable measure comes from the World Happiness Report that is released every year by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The report uses six variables of happiness: income, healthy life expectancy, freedom, trust in government, social support from family and friends, and generosity. This report is also UN-sponsored.
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The 2021 World Happiness Report takes into account COVID-19 and the effects that the pandemic has had on the six variables and the overall happiness of people. The authors recognize that there has been a significantly higher frequency of negative emotions across the globe due to the devastating pandemic. Hence, it is important to note that all of the countries on the list below, even though they are named the happiest, have experienced the consequences of the pandemic.
Here is a consolidated list of the happiest countries in the world and what makes them the happiest:
Finland has been named the happiest country for the fourth year in a row this year. Some people might not associate the cold weather and icy waters of Finland with happiness, but they still hold first place on the list.
Finland is also not the richest nation in the world, which proves that money is not directly related to happiness. Despite the significantly higher negative emotions among people in the last year, the report found that self-reported life satisfaction remained relatively stable.
Countries like Finland that already had high levels of social and institutional trust proved more able to keep social cohesion high during the pandemic and maintain their position in the happiness report.
The people in Finland generally enjoy high standards of living and a thriving culture. Finland is also ranked among the top education systems in the world. There is a high degree of reverence for teachers in Finland, who hold state-funded master’s degrees before teaching. The right education can make a big difference.
Finland has more forest per square mile than any other country in Europe. Connections with nature and the outdoors are often credited for higher life satisfaction.
Denmark actually topped the list in the first World Happiness Report and 2 other times after that. Denmark also had a high level of social cohesion during the pandemic. The nation also has one of the smallest wealth gaps in the world, which contributes to this harmony.
Denmark has been committed to renewable energy production and has bike-friendly cities. This respect for nature and the environment tends to be a common factor among the happiest countries.
Studies from the Happiness Research Institute also list economic security, freedom, civil participation, and work-life balance as other variables that give Denmark such a high position on the list.
Switzerland is known to have some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. When some people think of Switzerland, beautiful mountains and fresh air come to mind.
The country is known for having the highest nominal wealth per adult (the cost of living is also very high, however). Additionally, the country has a reputation for hygiene standards and respect for the environment.
Switzerland also has a great education system and places emphasis on equity of resources and wealth. The Swiss have a direct democracy system, which means citizens participate in almost every major decision, yielding a high degree of civic participation.
It is no surprise that there is yet another Nordic country in the top 5 happiest places in the world. The Nordic nations generally tend to share some ideologies and cultures.
Iceland is a beautiful, picturesque country with lush natural beauty and unique views of the northern lights.
During the pandemic, alongside rigorous testing and contact tracing, the government of Iceland guaranteed full salary payments to those suspected of being infected. This helped create economic security and improve mental wellbeing.
Iceland also has free health care and education, which boosts social cohesion and a sense of community among people. It was chosen by the World Economic Forum to be the best country for gender equality, which is supported by the fact that their Prime Minister is a woman.
The Netherlands saw its share of protests related to lockdowns and curfews, but the country as a whole did not vary greatly in its happiness levels. This may be because those who protested were a small fraction of the population. The country as a whole still has high degrees of social and institutional trust.
A UNICEF report from 2013 suggested that Dutch children are the happiest in the world. Other reports have also shown high satisfaction for life among Dutch teenagers. Unemployment rates are also low, though the pandemic did cause disparities.
During a pandemic, the World Happiness Report may seem puzzling, as so many people experienced negative changes as a result of the pandemic. However, many countries either held their positions on the list or moved up.
The importance of community, respect, and kindness has never been more apparent, and countries that managed to keep happiness levels up despite the odds may provide a framework for how social interaction could look in even more places.