With the world in a state of upheaval, we could use some happy news. The United Nations has released its 10th annual World Happiness Report—just days ahead of the annual International Day of Happiness on March 20. For the fifth year in a row, Finland has been named the happiest country in the world, with Denmark coming in second, followed by Iceland, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
The World Happiness Report—which ranks global happiness in more than 150 countries around the world—is released every year by the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The statisticians base the ranking on data from the Gallup World Poll and several other factors, including levels of GDP, life expectancy and more.
With the world entering the third year of the pandemic, the report has three areas of focus in 2022: looking back; looking at how people and countries are doing in the face of Covid-19; and looking ahead to how the science of well-being is likely to evolve in the future.
The good news: This year’s report found remarkable worldwide growth in all three acts of kindness monitored in the Gallup World Poll. “Helping strangers, volunteering and donations in 2021 were strongly up in every part of the world, reaching levels almost 25% above their pre-pandemic prevalence,” says John Helliwell, professor at the University of British Columbia and the editor of the World Happiness Report.
Some other good news, despite the pandemic: “Positive emotions as a whole remained more than twice as frequent as negative ones,” says Helliwell.
According to the report, there is still a lot of year-to-year consistency in the way people rate their lives in the top-ranking countries. So where did other countries fall on the list this year? In this year’s report, the U.S. came in at number 16. Our neighbors in Canada, however, beat us, at number 15. France reached its highest ranking to date, at number 20.
So what makes Finland so happy? “Research shows that high national ranking on these surveys is not so much about culture. It’s more about how a country’s institutions take care of their people—this leads to higher ratings of life satisfaction,” says Aalto University expert Frank Martela, a philosopher and the author of the book A Wonderful Life – Insights on Finding a Meaningful Experience (HarperCollins 2020).
According to other experts at Helsinki-based Aalto University, other factors contributing to this small country’s success include smart urban planning, access to green spaces to reduce stress and promote physical activity, an effective system of progressive taxation and strong healthcare and education systems.
Curiously, Finland shares a border with Russia, marking a grim reality during a time of war: the happiest country set alongside one of the unhappiest. Russia came in at number 80 on the list.
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