Global Cooperation

These are the happiest countries in the world

People enjoy a sunnny day at the Esplanade in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017.  REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Finland is the happiest country in the world closely followed by Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands. Image: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Briony Harris
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Global Cooperation?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Retail, Consumer Goods and Lifestyle is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Retail, Consumer Goods and Lifestyle

Finland is top of the world for happiness, according to the World Happiness Report 2018, closely followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Nordic countries take four out of the five top spots, and are well known to be stable, safe and socially progressive. There is very little corruption, and the police and politicians are trusted.

Finland's flag flutters in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
Image: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Money can’t buy happiness

But some of the world’s richest nations, including the US and Japan, are found much further down the list.

The disparity between wealth and happiness has caused policymakers to broaden their scope and look for other indicators to assess the health of nations, rather than just measuring economic success through GDP.

But happiness – or well-being – is subjective and notoriously difficult to quantify.

This report is based on international surveys in which thousands of respondents were asked to imagine a ladder with steps numbered 0 to 10 and say where they felt they stood.

And it cites six significant factors which contribute to happiness; GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and corruption levels.

Image: The World Happiness Report 2018

Falling down the list

Although the US ranks highly for per capita income, it is only ranked 18th out of 156 countries, substantially below most comparably wealthy nations.

GDP Ranking by country 2017 (In billions of $)

Wealth doesn't always equate to happiness. Image: Statista

That is because it performs poorly on social measures: life expectancy has declined, inequality has grown and confidence in the government has fallen.

The renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs, who was one of the report’s editors, said the fact that the US was still falling down the rankings was very worrying and revealed deep stress amongst its citizens.

“I think there really is a deep and very unsettling signal coming through that US society is in many ways under profound stress, even though the economy by traditional measures is doing fine,” he said in an interview. “The trends are not good, and the comparative position of the US relative to other high-income countries is nothing short of alarming.”

Sachs highlights three interrelated diseases that need to be tackled; obesity, substance abuse (especially the opioid crisis) and depression.

The US has one of the highest rates of obesity and the highest rate of antidepressant use in the world.

The US has the highest use of antidepressants in the world Image: Tech Insider via Business Insider

And the plight of the US stands as a pertinent example of why economists are increasingly concerned with measuring happiness rather than wealth.

Moving to a happy country can make us happier

The report also tried to assess how migration affects happiness, and surveyed the happiness levels of immigrants in each country for the first time.

It found that the happiness of a country’s immigrants is almost identical to that of the wider population, and the people adjust to the average happiness level of the country they move to.

This suggests that happiness is less about cultural norms and attitudes, and heavily influenced instead by surroundings and the quality of life that a country can offer.

A person who moves to a country higher up the happiness list, for example, is likely to become happier, while a person who moves to a country lower down the list will also feel unhappier.

And Finland not only has the happiest people, but also the happiest immigrants.

Have you read?
Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Global CooperationEmerging Technologies
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Children are at climate change's sharp edge — we must do more to protect them

Blair Palmer

June 21, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum