Finland still the happiest country in the world, UN report says

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Finland has again topped the list of the UN’s World Happiness Report. (iStock)
Finland has once again been ranked as the happiest country in the world.

The Nordic nation received the accolade for the second year in succession in the annual survey of global happiness from the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Finland beat out 155 other countries for the title in the 2019 report, released Wednesday. The report states that global data on national happiness and evidence from the emerging science of happiness shows that “the quality of people’s lives can be coherently, reliably, and validly assessed by a variety of subjective well-being measures, collectively referred to as ‘happiness.'”

The annual report is based on survey results from the preceding three years, although the surveys are not arranged in every country in the assessment on an annual basis.

Finland’s result in the 2019 ranking is encouraging, as its position is now even farther ahead of the second-ranked country, Denmark – leaving no doubt about its first-place position on the list. Finland’s happiness has been rising slowly but steadily since 2014, the report says.

Some of the factors going into the assessment include gross domestic product per capita, healthy life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom to make life choices, and perceptions of corruption.

In this year’s ranking, each of the Nordic countries fared well, with Austria moving up the list to break into the top ten and replace Australia. The 2018 happiness rankings of the countries are included for comparison.

2019 World Happiness Report top ten

  1. Finland (1)
  2. Denmark (3)
  3. Norway (2)
  4. Iceland (4)
  5. Netherlands (6)
  6. Switzerland (5)
  7. Sweden (9)
  8. New Zealand (8)
  9. Canada (7)
  10. Austria (12)

The 2019 World Happiness Report concludes that many countries have seen great improvements in happiness in the last decade, with more countries growing happier than not.

The country that has taken the greatest leap compared to 2005-2008 figures is Benin, whose ranking in the 2019 report improved 50 places. Venezuela and Syria, on the other hand, are both ranked lower this year than the last.

Burundi, which was last on the list in 2018, has now climbed 5 spots to the 145th position.

Happiness is a tricky concept

The happiness study ranks the countries of the world on the basis of questions from the Gallup World Poll. The results are then correlated with other factors, including GDP and social security.

The rankings of national happiness are based on a Cantril ladder survey. Nationally representative samples of respondents are asked to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale.

The Cantril ladder method has been the target of criticism, as some suspect it is skewed to favour the Nordic countries.

For example, Howstuffworks reported last year that the Gallup World Poll responses align closely with income level, as the more money you have, the more likely you are to say that your life is an eight or a nine on the ladder.

It says the report would produce an entirely different ranking if it asked people questions that focus on their emotions and daily life experiences. The Gallup World Poll also poses a series of “yesterday” questions, asking people if they experienced specific positive and negative emotions during the previous day: things like smiling and laughter, respect, enjoyment, worry, sadness and anger.

If the world’s happiest country was determined by these kinds of questions, the publication argues, the happiest country in the world in 2018 would have been Columbia, which was ranked 43rd in this year’s UN report, and 37th last year.

Related stories from around the North:

Finland: Finland has world’s cleanest air, WHO says, Yle News

United States: What Permanent Fund Dividend checks do for jobs, crime and health in Alaska, Alaska Public Media

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