The world’s happiest country, according the latest World Happiness Report, is Norway, with Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland almost on par. The report’s authors say that these four countries are clustered so tightly that the differences among them are not statistically significant. Norway (7.537), Denmark (7.522), Iceland (7.504), and Switzerland (7.494) are almost equal, with Switzerland’s score 99.4% of Norway’s.
Overall, scores range from 7.537 (Norway) to 2.693 (Central African Republic), with a mean of 5.354.
The UN-backed initiative, which started in 2012, surveys 155 countries. Around 1,000 people in each country are asked questions about satisfaction with their lives, how they feel, and the extent to which they feel they have purpose or meaning in their lives.
The study then uses other data to assign overall happiness to five sources: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption. This leaves some happiness unexplained. In Switzerland, the unexplained portion accounts for 30% of the total. The country with the greatest percentage of unexplained happiness is the Central African Republic, where 77% was unaccounted for.
Switzerland, where happiness was virtually unchanged from the last survey, was a solid all-rounder. Overall its score was 40% higher than average. Areas of particular relative strength were perceived absence of corruption (3 times the mean), GDP per capita (1.6 times the mean), healthy life expectancy (1.6 times the mean), and freedom to make life choices (1.5 times the mean). Social support (1.3 times the mean) and generosity (1.2 times the mean) were closer to the overall mean.
Social factors and work
Social factors are a key element of happiness. Having someone to count on in times of trouble is equal to the happiness effect of increasing the income of someone in one of the poorest three countries 16-fold.
Having a job accounts for a large chunk of happiness too. The type of work also has a bearing. Poorly paid manual labour induces far less happiness than a well paid professional job.
US slips despite higher income score
Happiness in the United States slid by 0.372, a 5% decline, placing it 14th. Falling happiness in America was due to social rather than to economic factors. While two happiness drivers moved up (income and healthy life expectancy), the four social variables all deteriorated: social support, sense of personal freedom, donations, and perceived corruption of government and business. The country with the highest score for social support was Iceland.
Money doesn’t buy happiness
Money doesn’t buy happiness. If it did Qatar, with the highest score for GDP per capita would rank first. Instead in ranked 35th due to relatively low scores on social support, generosity and healthy life expectancy.
Scoring top on healthy life expectancy wasn’t enough to propel Singapore to first place. Even when combined with the best score on perceived absence of corruption, Singapore only managed 26th. Lowish scores on freedom to make life choices and social support dragged the nation down.
Bizarrely, Uzbekistan led on freedom to make life choices. Perhaps those filling out the questionnaire felt the same pressure as they did when voting for the country’s president last year – 88.6% voted to install Shavkat Mirziyoyev as interim president. The Economist described the election as a sham.
If the happiness questionnaire was expanded to include mountains (but not volcanos or fjords) and chocolate then Switzerland would surely have come first.