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The enduring effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the war in Ukraine, and worldwide inflation made 2022 a year of global crises.
But the human resolve to be happy has been “remarkably resilient,” says the 2023 World Happiness Report, which recorded global satisfaction averages as high as those in the pre-pandemic years.
The report, which draws on global survey data from people in more than 150 countries, placed Finland in the top position for the sixth year in a row, with a happiness score significantly ahead of all other countries.
How do you determine if people are happy?
The World Happiness Report rankings are largely based on life evaluations from the Gallup World Poll.
The six key variables the report quantifies are income (GDP per capita), social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and freedom from corruption. And the most common question to measure people’s well-being is: “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life these days?” To answer, people rely on a scale of 0-10 (0= completely dissatisfied, 10= completely satisfied).
The annual results of the report are always based on average life evaluations over the past three years.
The inequality of happiness: Which countries were the unhappiest?
There is a large gap between the happiest and unhappiest countries in the list, with the top countries being more tightly grouped than the bottom ones.
For countries in the top 10, for example, national life evaluation scores have an average gap of fewer than 0.7 points. In the bottom 10, however, the range of scores covers 2.1 points.
War-torn Afghanistan and Lebanon remain the two least happy countries, based on the indicators used by the report authors. Both countries have average life evaluations more than five points lower (on a scale running from 0 to 10) than the ten happiest countries.
So, which countries are the happiest in 2023?
As with Finland topping the list for the sixth year, much of the rest of the top 10 remains largely unchanged.
Denmark safeguarded its second spot, while Iceland took on third place.
One of the biggest jumps in the rankings was Israel in fourth place, moving up five positions from last year.
Outside the top 10, Austria and Australia took 11th and 12th positions, followed by Canada, which went back up two places to 13th from last year’s lowest-ever ranking of 11th happiest.
Ireland was deemed the 14th happiest, followed by the United States (15th), Germany (16th), Belgium (17th), Czechia (18th), the United Kingdom (19th), and Lithuania (20th).
Year after year, the happiest countries tend to be the same; for instance, 19 countries out of this year’s top 20 were also on the list last year. But there was one exception, Lithuania, which has steadily risen over the past six years, from 52nd in 2017 to 20th this year.
France dropped out of the top 20 to 21st in this year’s report.
The top 10 happiest countries are:
- New Zealand
Key findings from this year’s report
“This year’s report features many interesting insights,” said Lara Aknin, co-author of the report, “but one that I find particularly interesting and heartening has to do with pro-sociality”.
The report had already recorded a global surge of benevolence in 2020 and 2021, following the pandemic. And according to 2022 data, people’s tendency to be kind, generous, and altruistic towards others was 25 per cent more common than before the pandemic.
This benevolent spirit was also recorded in countries such as Ukraine and Russia. In 2020 and 2021, both had experienced global increases in benevolence, said the report. During 2022, however, benevolence grew sharply in Ukraine but declined in Russia.
Interestingly, despite the devastating impact of the war in Ukraine, by September 2022, life evaluations remained higher than after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, which the report says is “supported now by a stronger sense of common purpose, benevolence, and trust in Ukrainian leadership”.
“The Russian invasion has forged Ukraine into a nation,” noted Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, co-editor of the report.
How happiness should be measured
Every year, more and more data becomes available detailing how happiness should be measured, which means “national happiness can now become an operational objective for governments,” says the report, which is a publication of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
“The happiness movement shows that well-being is not a ‘soft’ and ‘vague’ idea but rather focuses on areas of the life of critical importance: material conditions, mental and physical wealth, personal virtues, and good citizenship,” said Jeffrey Sachs, co-director of the Wellbeing Programme at the London School of Economics and co-editor of the report, in a statement.
“We need to turn this wisdom into practical results to achieve more peace, prosperity, trust, civility – and yes, happiness – in our societies”.