The world’s happiest countries

Photo: with Sanal Edamaraku in Helsinki

Monty Python once recorded a song about the joys of visiting Finland. It has the underwhelming chorus of “Finland, Finland, Finland, The country where I quite want to be…”

But Michael Palin’s lyrics have proven to be prophetic, as Finland is the happiest country in the world, according to the 2019 World Happiness Report.

For the second year in a row, the Nordic State has come in first of 156 countries, in the annual report by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

All of the top ten are OECD countries. They include the five Nordic countries (Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Sweden), along with nearby Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria, and from outside of Europe, Canada and New Zealand.

Overall happiness is similar to immigrant happiness

One encouraging outcome from the 2018 report is that the ten happiest countries in the overall rankings also filled ten of the top eleven spots in the ranking of immigrant happiness. Finland was at the top of both rankings, with the happiest immigrants, and the happiest population in general.

Some other findings in the 2019 report seem intuitive, and some seem surprising.

  • People experience laughter and enjoyment most often in Paraguay.
  • People experience worry, sadness and anger least often in Taiwan.
  • People feel they have the most freedom to make life choices in Uzbekistan.
  • People feel they have the most social support in Iceland.
  • People perceive the least corruption in Singapore.
  • People give most often to charity in Myanmar.
  • People have the highest real GDP per capita in Qatar.
  • People have the highest healthy life expectancy in Singapore.

The happiest country overall, Finland, is in four of the Report’s other eight top tens. It is 2nd in social support, 4th in least perceived corruption, 5th in freedom to make life choices, and 10th in least worry, sadness, and anger. Finland is also 22nd in real GDP per capita, 27th in healthy life expectancy, 41st in most laughter and enjoyment, and 47th in generosity.

Ireland, UK, USA, and the least happy countries

Ireland is the 16th happiest country overall. We are in four other top tens: 6th in both social support and GDP per capita, 9th in generosity, and 10th in least perceived corruption. Also, we are 20th in healthy life expectancy, 32nd in least worry, sadness, and anger, and 33rd in both most laughter and enjoyment, and freedom to make life decisions.

The United Kingdom is the 15th happiest country overall. It is in two other top tens: 4th in generosity, and 9th in social support. Also, the UK is 23rd in GDP per capita, 15th in least perceived corruption, 24th in healthy life expectancy, 42nd in least worry, sadness, and anger, 52nd in most laughter and enjoyment, and 63rd in freedom to make life decisions.

The United States of America is the 19th happiest country overall. It is in one other top ten: 10th in GDP per capita. It is also 12th in generosity, 35th in most laughter and enjoyment, 37th in social support, 39th in healthy life expectancy, 42nd in least perceived corruption, 62nd in freedom to make life decisions, and 70th in least worry, sadness, and anger.

South Sudan is the least happy of the 156 countries in the report, with a score of 2.85 compared to Finland’s 7.76. Six of the least happy countries are in Africa: Botswana, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Also in the ten least happy countries are Haiti, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan.

Top ten happiest countries overall

This is the national average response to the Gallup World Poll (GWP) question “Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”

  1. Finland (score 7.76)
  2. Denmark (7.60)
  3. Norway (7.55)
  4. Iceland (7.49)
  5. Netherlands (7.48)
  6. Switzerland (7.48)
  7. Sweden (7.34)
  8. New Zealand (7.30)
  9. Canada (7.27)
  10. Austria (7.24)

The next ten happiest countries are: Australia (7.23), Costa Rica (7.16), Israel (7.14), Luxembourg (7.09), United Kingdom (7.05), Ireland (7.02), Germany (6.98), Belgium (6.92), United States (6.89), and Czech Republic (6.85).

Top ten countries by most laughter and enjoyment

This is the average of three Positive Affect measures in GWP: “Did you experience happiness a lot of the day yesterday? Did you laugh or smile a lot of the day yesterday? Did you experience enjoyment a lot of the day yesterday?” Only of the top ten happiest countries overall (Iceland) is also in the top ten by the most enjoyment.

  1. Paraguay (63rd Overall)
  2. Somalia (112nd Overall)
  3. Iceland (4th Overall)
  4. Costa Rica (12th Overall)
  5. Laos (105th Overall)
  6. Mexico (23rd Overall)
  7. Panama (31st Overall)
  8. Guatamala (27th Overall)
  9. Indonesia (92nd Overall)
  10. Uruguay (33rd Overall)

Top ten countries by least worry, sadness, and anger

This is the average of three Negative Affect measures in GWP: “Did you experience worry a lot of the day yesterday? Did you experience sadness a lot of the day yesterday? Did you experience anger a lot of the day yesterday?” The results here are ranked in order of the fewest negative experiences. Three of the top ten happiest countries overall (Iceland, Sweden, and Finland) are also in the top ten by the least sadness.

  1. Taiwan (25th Overall)
  2. Singapore (34th Overall)
  3. Iceland (4th Overall)
  4. Kyrgyzstan (86th Overall)
  5. Kazakhstan (60th Overall)
  6. Estonia (55th Overall)
  7. Kosovo (46th Overall)
  8. Sweden (7th Overall)
  9. Russia (68th Overall)
  10. Finland (1st Overall)

Top ten countries by social support

This is the national average of responses to the GWP question “If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them, or not?” Four of the top ten happiest countries overall (Iceland, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and New Zealand) are also in the top ten by social support.

  1. Iceland (4th Overall)
  2. Finland (1st Overall)
  3. Norway (3rd Overall)
  4. Denmark (2nd Overall)
  5. New Zealand (8th Overall)
  6. Ireland (16th Overall)
  7. Australia (11th Overall)
  8. Turkmenistan (87th Overall)
  9. United Kingdom (15th Overall)
  10. Mongolia (83rd Overall)

Top ten countries by perceptions of freedom to make life choices

This is the national average of responses to the GWP question “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?” Seven of the top ten happiest countries overall (Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand, Canada, and Sweden) are also in the top ten by perceived freedom to make life choices.

  1. Uzbekistan (41st Overall)
  2. Cambodia (109th Overall)
  3. Norway (3rd Overall)
  4. United Arab Emirates (21st Overall)
  5. Finland (1st Overall)
  6. Denmark (2nd Overall)
  7. Iceland (4th Overall)
  8. New Zealand (8th Overall)
  9. Canada (9th Overall)
  10. Sweden (7th Overall)

Top ten countries by perceptions of least corruption

This is the national average of the survey responses to two questions in the GWP: “Is corruption widespread throughout the government or not” and “Is corruption widespread within businesses or not?” The results here are ranked in order of the fewest perceptions of corruption. Six of the top ten happiest countries overall (Denmark Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, and Norway) are also in the top ten by perceptions of least corruption.

  1. Singapore (34th Overall)
  2. Rwanda (152nd Overall)
  3. Denmark (2nd Overall)
  4. Finland (1st Overall)
  5. New Zealand (8th Overall)
  6. Sweden (7th Overall)
  7. Switzerland (6th Overall)
  8. Norway (3rd Overall)
  9. Luxembourg (14th Overall)
  10. Ireland (16th Overall)

Top ten countries by generosity

This is the residual of regressing national average of response to the GWP question “Have you donated money to a charity in the past month?” on GDP per capita. Three of the top ten happiest countries overall (Iceland, Netherlands, and New Zealand) are also in the top ten by generosity.

  1. Myanmar (131st Overall)
  2. Indonesia (92nd Overall)
  3. Iceland (4th Overall)
  4. United Kingdom (15th Overall)
  5. Malta (22nd Overall)
  6. Australia (11th Overall)
  7. Netherlands (5th Overall)
  8. New Zealand (8th Overall)
  9. Ireland (16th Overall)
  10. Thailand (52nd Overall)

Top ten countries by GDP per capita

The statistics of GDP per capita, in purchasing power parity at constant 2011 international dollar prices, are from the most recent update of the World Development Indicators (WDI). Two of the top ten happiest countries overall (Norway and Switzerland) are also in the top ten by GDP per capita.

  1. Qatar (29th Overall)
  2. Luxembourg (14th Overall)
  3. Singapore (34th Overall)
  4. United Arab Emirates (21st Overall)
  5. Kuwait (51st Overall)
  6. Ireland (16th Overall)
  7. Norway (3rd Overall)
  8. Switzerland (6th Overall)
  9. Hong Kong (76th Overall)
  10. United States (19th Overall)

Top ten countries by healthy life expectancy

This is based on data from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Development Indicators (WDI), and statistics published in journal articles. Two of the top ten happiest countries overall (Switzerland and Canada) are also in the top ten by healthy life expectancy.

  1. Singapore (34th Overall)
  2. Japan (58th Overall)
  3. Spain (30th Overall)
  4. Switzerland (6th Overall)
  5. France (24th Overall)
  6. Cyprus (49th Overall)
  7. Italy (36th Overall)
  8. Canada (9th Overall)
  9. South Korea (54th Overall)
  10. Australia (11th Overall)

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