When it comes to ranking countries in order of happiness, it appears being socially progressive is by far a bigger factor than economic wealth.
According to the World Happiness Report, released earlier this year, Finland is top of the world for happiness, 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.
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.
Although the US ranks highly for per capita income, it is only ranked 18th out of 156 countries, substantially below most comparably wealthy nations.
That is because it performs poorly on social measures: life expectancy has declined, inequality has grown and confidence in the government has fallen.
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 among its citizens.
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.
Why do you believe Nordic countries dominate the list of the world’s happiest places? Have you visited these countries? Did you think they were happier places than Australia?
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