Who doesn’t need some happy news these days? Just in time for the United Nation’s annual International Day of Happiness on March 20, the results of the 2021 World Happiness Report have been released—and the results will put a smile on your face, despite the ongoing pandemic that has killed more than 2.6 million people around the globe. For the fourth year in a row, Finland has been named the happiest country in the world, with Iceland coming in second, followed by Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
And during a challenging time for the United States, things improved here, too. The U.S. shot up to number 14—up four spots from last year when it ranked 18, even beating out our neighbors in Canada (who slipped to number 15 this year). In the 2019 World Happiness Report, the United States was even lower, at number 19.
Launched in 2012, the World Happiness Report is an annual survey conducted by the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The survey ranks global happiness in countries around the world. Typically, the statisticians base the ranking on data from the Gallup World Poll. But this year was a bit different. Since the researchers were unable to do face-to-face interviews in a number of countries, they focused on the relationship between well-being and Covid-19 in order to rank the countries.
“Surprisingly there was not, on average, a decline in well-being when measured by people’s own evaluation of their lives,” said University of British Columbia professor John Helliwell, one of the people behind the report. “One possible explanation is that people see Covid-19 as a common, outside threat affecting everybody and that this has generated a greater sense of solidarity and fellow-feeling.”
So where did other countries fall on the list this year? Norway slipped a bit this year, coming in at number eight. Last year, Norway was at number 5, and in 2019, Norway was in the top three overall. The United Kingdom slipped five spots from 2020, coming in at number 18, while Germany is at 7—up 10 spots. Another big leap was Croatia, which rose to 23 on the list this year—up from number 79 in 2020.
Many Asian countries performed better on the 2021 list and the researchers—who took a deep dive into the lessons learned there—weren’t surprised. “The East Asian experience shows that stringent government policies not only control Covid-19 effectively, but also buffer the negative impact of daily infections on people’s happiness,” said Shun Wang of the Korea Development Institute.
There were similar success rates in Australia, which ranked number 12 and New Zealand, at number nine. “The evidence shows that people’s morale improves when the government acts,” says the report’s editors.
Besides the happiest countries in the world, the Happiness Report also looked at the places where people are the most miserable. This year, countries like Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Jordan were ranked as some of the unhappiest countries in the world.
But in a time like this, who needs to focus on being unhappy? So read on for the top 20 happiest countries in the world—and try to focus on happier days ahead. After all, as Richard Layard, co-director of the Wellbeing Programme at LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance, points out: “Living long is as important as living well. In terms of well-being-years per person born, the world has made great progress in recent decades which even Covid-19 has not fully offset.”
World’s 20 Happiest Countries
- New Zealand
- United States
- Czech Republic
- United Kingdom
3/21/21 Update: In the original version of this story, the rankings for the The People’s Republic of China and Taiwan were transposed. This story has been updated to reflect that correction.
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