The world’s happiest countries are sure to surprise you

Much like in life, being rich doesn’t necessarily make a country happy.

The world’s happiest countries

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?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    17th Sep 2018
    Strange that many of the nordic countries, (eg Finland) have very high suicide rates, and alcohol consumption is a major issue. Sure I found the Finns etc to be cheerful mostly, but happy? Not so sure. Ask in the middle of a dark and cold winter...

    I think it depends on what is meant by "happy". In a recent trip to Namibia, I found many happy people, but living in serious poverty compared to us Aussies. They were always smiling, keen to work and so proud of their country and their own achievements. Kids played, people sang and danced, just lovely.

    I think Australians are generally happy, but we whinge a lot. Compared with many others, we have NOTHING to really whinge about.
    17th Sep 2018
    Dammit Janus,you're makin'a lot of do we get to Namibia!
    17th Sep 2018
    dmoore - just take a flight to Johannesburg and change to one for Windhoek, Namibia.
    Was working there many years ago and yes - you see many happy people there but also tribal jealousies.
    As to Finland no one has reported the place as the one with the highest suicide rate in Europe. Suppose the ones left are happier than the departed. I know the countries well and I am still a citizen of Switzerland. Just came back 2 days ago and have not seen the people there happier than our lot down here. There are no homeless people but there vagrancy is against the law.
    Age pension is guaranteed for the ones who worked all their lives (no means test) and for the ones who did not there is a welfare net but with conditions and asset test involved. But do consider the heating costs during about 5 months of the year! And there is still atomic power - the station is just 5 km away from my mother's place. No one is in a panic.
    17th Sep 2018
    Despite Australia dropping to 10th place, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
    I'm very happy living in this great country.
    17th Sep 2018
    I had recently relatives from the Netherlands staying with me and they liked traveling around Australia, but when staying with me they were very disturb by my reduced circumstances I lived (DSP/Old Age Pension) and where astonished at how low the pension rate was and suggested to me to go back to Holland, but that is difficult as my children/grandchildren are here. I can tell you when in contact with my relatives in Europe they are3 doing a lot better then me financially and otherwise and seem a lot happier then I am.
    17th Sep 2018
    I used to live and work in Denmark, I have a Swiss born wife a Dutch parent and we visit Scandinavia and northern Europe as often as we can. The biggest differnces between Australia and Northern Europe is a culture and standard of education, a craftsmanship ethic and working smart. Unlike Australia, despite their success in various sports it is not a national, unproductive obsession as it is here. It's no coincidence that all these countries also rate highly in educational surveys. Good education helps to make people secure, productive and resourceful and to make good life decisions. It would also help the government and country do the same.
    18th Sep 2018
    Having a well funded education and health system that you trust is so important to well being. Also knowing that you will be cared for in old age.

    These countries are Social Democracies and have been since Viking Days. The Thing held annually to vote and make decisions existed when most of the world was tribal or feudal.

    Educating the young has always been a priority. Not having huge HEC debts starting out is a terrific idea. The whole idea of privatising higher education will end a disaster as the other privatisations have. The Scandinavian countries, France and Germany have not fallen into the private is better trap. It is only better for the owners and everyone else suffers for their greed.

    You can be happy and have choices if your main concerns are covered by general taxes everyone pays. When inequality increases it always ends up costing a country dearly even the rich people suffer in the end.

    Australia was fair when we had decent incomes, higher taxes but less indirect charges and good redistribution systems. It is becoming less fair bit by bit through no good reason but pure greed from those who believe they deserve more than others.

    17th Sep 2018
    Of course! Left-leaning = Happy. Right-wing = Miserable.
    17th Sep 2018
    Cowboy Jim - could you have paid off a mortgage in Switzerland? Remember also that there is no Medicare type system and private health insurance is obligatory. There is a lot of hidden 'only just managing' people in Switzerland.
    17th Sep 2018
    I think it depends on who you ask and how they rate happiness, some people are happy with a little, some with a lot, some people are never happy.

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