The World Happiness Report is an annual survey by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations. It looks at the state of global happiness in 156 countries, ranking countries using the Gallup World Poll and six factors: levels of GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom and corruption income. Money cannot buy happiness—at least the above six other factors are also critical for nations to have happy people. The World Happiness Report was originally launched in 2012.
As of March 2020, Finland was ranked the happiest country in the world, third time in a row.
Besides the happiest countries, the World Happiness Report also looked at the places where people are the unhappiest. This year, Afghanistan was named the unhappiest place in the world, followed by South Sudan and Zimbabwe. If you have not seen this report till now, you will be shocked to know that India is listed in the TOP 10 World’s Unhappiest Countries.
For the first time, the 2020 report also ranked the happiest cities around the world. The top 10 is dominated by Scandinavian cities, with Finland’s capital of Helsinki ranking as the happiest city in the world. Here also, Delhi got listed in the TOP 10 World’s Unhappiest Cities.
Frigid temperatures, dark winter days, a breathtakingly high cost of living: who would ever want to live in a place like that? As it turns out, the happiest people on planet Earth. Finland conquered United Nations World Happiness Report’s top spot for the third year in a row, and not because there is something in the icy waters of this nation of just 5.5 million people. Finland is not the richest either among the 153 countries surveyed by Gallup World Poll: more than one dozen other countries beat the country’s GDP per capita.
What is the reason then?
Quality of life—the UN report says—can be reliably assessed by a variety of well-being measures, with income being only of them and not necessarily the most important. The other five key variables are freedom to make life choices, trust towards social and political institutions, healthy life expectancy, level of available support from friends and relatives in times of need and generosity as a sense of positive community engagement. Finns—together with their Nordic neighbors—score exceptionally well in all these metrics.
Especially during these incredibly challenging time of Covid 19, happiness can be the tide that lifts all boats. Other people’s happiness is essential to our own, and the UN’s report proves it time and again. In 2018, for example, it revealed that a higher degree of acceptance towards migrants increases happiness both among newcomers and the locally born. Last year, it showed that fewer social networks and more in-person social interactions greatly boost our individual sense of contentedness.
This year, the report focused on social, urban and natural environments and their links. On the social side, researchers say, people like living in communities and societies with less inequality of well-being, and where they feel they can rely on other people and public institutions. People in high-trust communities are much more resilient in the face of a whole range of challenges such as illness, discrimination, fear of danger and unemployment. The effects of misfortune and anxiety, the happiness experts indicate, are lessened by the strength and the warmth of the social fabric, especially for those most in need.
When it comes to urban life, the happiest cities are located in the happiest countries and city dwellers are on average happier than those in rural areas, especially in less happy nations. However, among the happiest nations this trend is sometimes reversed. What tips the scale? The difference, the report speculates, might reflect the extent to which people feel a sense of belonging to their local community. Furthermore, the benefits of living in an urban setting can be outweighed by higher costs of living, greater inequality, pollution and crime, as well as lower levels of social capital and lack of green space.
With respect to our natural environment, the takeaway is unequivocal: people are happier when they are in contact with nature, especially when they are accompanied by family or friends. The happiest countries are also those that prioritize sustainable development policies and do more to meet the Sustainable Development Goals developed by the United Nations.
The World Happiness Report 2020 results are not surprising (i.e. every Nordic country made the cut)—but we still recommend checking out the top 10 list below. Who knows? Maybe just reading about these places will put a smile on your face today.
Luxembourg made quite the upward leap—from 14th to 10th—bumping top-ten darlings Canada and Australia down a few pegs. With a population under 600,000, the small country offers high salaries and a strong social security system to help its citizens after retirement. But before you jump to the conclusion that money is actually buying happiness in Luxembourg, it has many other perks that have nothing to do with cash, including a great healthcare system and excellent work-life balance (probably due to the mandatory five weeks of vacation time).
Austria made the cut this year with high scores in life expectancy and GDP per capita. Remember when we mentioned that taking a bike ride might help with happiness rankings? Well consider this: Biking is one of our favorite ways to get around Austria (well, at least its wine country).
8. New Zealand
Sure to fuel an already burning rivalry, New Zealand beat its neighbor Australia, who didn’t even make the top 10, this year. Condé Nast Traveler readers say, year after year, that Kiwis are a warm, welcoming bunch, but according to the U.N.’s research, a lot of that comes from satisfaction not only when they’re out and about, but also in the workplace. We would guess the country’s vast natural wealth—its beaches, vineyards, and mountains—plays a role, too.
This year, Sweden remained in the seventh spot. A high GDP per capita, which it shares with many of its Nordic neighbors, is not the sole reason, either: An emphasis on social equality that is built into the education system starting in kindergarten, 16 months of paid family leave that can be split between a couple after a new child is welcomed into a family, and free day care also make Sweden the best country for women, according to a separate study. Basically, an emphasis on work-life balance leads to a happier populace. Turns out feeling productive and rested leads to major smiles. Are you listening, New York City?
The biggest stat from the Netherlands this year? That its happiness levels have barely changed (we’re talking less than 0.03 percent) between 2005 and 2019. And in the Netherlands, it turns out, happiness starts young. A 2013 UNICEF report rated Dutch children the happiest in the world, based on a number of metrics related to educational well-being, safety, and health. Vincent van Gogh was the exception, not the rule.
Norway has been dropping in the ranks since 2017 (when it held the top spot), and this year it comes in as the fifth-happiest country in the world. But there’s not too much to complain about. The mix of a well-integrated government welfare system and a thriving economy built on responsible management of its natural resources (good riddance, fossil fuel-powered cars) means that very few are left behind, and the feelings of social support, trust in government, and economic well-being that come from that all contribute to overall happiness.
Iceland ranks high in terms of the proportion of respondents who said they felt like they had a fellow citizen to count on when the going gets rough. This perhaps became most obvious in the wake of the country’s post-2007 financial collapse and subsequent revitalization. You’d think that the perpetual flood of American tourists into Reykjavik might have dealt a blow to the residents’ happiness—it’s got to be a little harder to get that dinner reservation than it used to be, after all—but when it comes to well-being, the Icelanders are unfazed. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they can always escape the city to a countryside that looks like another planet.
Switzerland (which moved up three spots this year) is a country where everything is voted on, from how many vacation days workers should have to how many immigrants should be allowed into the country, and referendums down to the local level happen many times a year. This system of direct democracy means that Swiss citizens feel an unparalleled sense of participation in their country’s evolution, from landmark decisions on human rights to whether a new traffic light should be installed in their neighborhood. The Swiss are known to be insular, and it can be off-putting to first time visitors, but there is a strong social fabric held together by a belief that every voice matters, which can go a long way toward feeling content.
Denmark remained in the number two spot this year. The country rates near the top in all the metrics the data geeks at the U.N. pored over for the report—life expectancy, social support, and generosity among them—but it is also a country hugely committed to renewable energy production (39.1 percent of its energy was wind-generated in 2014). Home to the world’s most bike-friendly city and a coastline that you could spend a lifetime exploring, the country’s happiness certainly comes in part from a respect for the planet it’s built on. But a recent study from the Copenhagen-based Happiness Research Institute (whose existence is probably reason enough for a top spot) narrows down Denmark’s happiness to a number of different categories, including trust in the government, economic security, freedom, civil participation, and work-life balance. Our main takeaway from the institute’s continuing research is that if you want to be happy, the first step is to stop stressing about how happy you are…and go for a bike ride.
For the third year in a row, Finland is number one when it comes to happiness. The country consistently ranks among the top education systems in the world, occasionally beaten out by countries like South Korea, Japan, and Singapore. Much of that educational success comes from a widespread reverence for teachers, who are required to have a master’s degree (state-funded), and a pedagogical system that focuses less on quantitative testing and more on experiential learning and equal opportunity.
What about United States?
This year, things have improved slightly for the United States. The U.S. ranked number 18—a slight uptick from last year when it ranked 19, although it’s still far below its 11th place ranking in the first World Happiness Report. Last year’s report explained it: “The years since 2010 have not been good ones for happiness and well-being among Americans.”
So where did other major countries fall on the list?
The United Kingdom was at number 13 (up two spots from 2019), Germany was again at 17, Japan was at 62 (down four spots from 2019), Russia was at 73 (down five spots), China was at 94 (down one spot) and India is at 144 out of 153 countries.
Besides the happiest countries, the World Happiness Report also looked at the places where people are the unhappiest. This year, Afghanistan was named the unhappiest place in the world, followed by South Sudan and Zimbabwe.
World’s Unhappiest Countries
- South Sudan
- Central African Republic
For the first time, the 2020 report also ranked the happiest cities around the world. The top 10 is dominated by Scandinavian cities, with Finland’s capital of Helsinki ranking as the happiest city in the world.
World’s Happiest Cities
- Helsinki, Finland
- Aarhus, Denmark
- Wellington, New Zealand
- Zurich, Switzerland
- Copenhagen, Denmark
- Bergen, Norway
- Oslo, Norway
- Tel Aviv, Israel
- Stockholm, Sweden
- Brisbane, Australia
On the other end of the spectrum, the unhappiest cities have some common themes. Most are located in underdeveloped countries and have experienced war (Kabul in Afghanistan, Sanaa in Yemen), armed conflict (Gaza in Palestine), civil war (Juba in South Sudan, Bangui in the Central African Republic), political instability (Cairo in Egypt) or devastating natural catastrophes (Port-au-Prince in Haiti). It is really unfortunate that our capital city, Delhi, is also listed in 7th place here in the world unhappiest cities.
World’s Unhappiest Cities
- Kabul, Afghanistan
- Sanaa, Yemen
- Gaza, Palestine
- Port-a-Prince, Haiti
- Juba, South Sudan
- Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
- Delhi, India
- Maseru, Lesotho
- Bangui, Central African Republic
- Cairo, Egypt
WORLD’S HAPPIEST COUNTRIES
156 countries ranked by per capita income, social support networks, healthy life expectancy, individual freedom, philanthropy, and the absence of corruption in government and business.
|1||Finland||78||Hong Kong SAR, China|
|8||New Zealand||85||Ivory Coast|
|21||United Arab Emirates||98||Cameroon|
|25||Taiwan Province of China||102||Guinea|
|42||Trinidad and Tobago||119||Jordan|
|69||Bosnia and Herzegoina||146||Yemen|
|72||Montenegro||149||Central African Republic|
|Source: The UN’s 2020 World Happiness Report.|