The annual report, in its seventh year, ranks 156 countries on six key variables that influence our happiness: freedom, income, life expectancy, social support, generosity, and trust.
Each year the report surveys global data on these key factors to assess the quality of people’s lives around the globe. Each report has a theme reflecting trends around the world that affect our happiness. Last year migration was identified as an important source of global change. This year, the focus is on happiness and community, how people communicate and interact with each other, not just locally or nationally, but as a global community.
“The world is a rapidly changing place,” said Professor John Helliwell, co-editor of the report. “How communities interact with each other whether in schools, workplaces, neighborhoods or on social media has profound effects on world happiness.”
For the second year running Finland has topped the list as the happiest country. In fact, the top 10 countries haven’t changed in the last four years, except to jostle for position. This year, however, sees Austria entering for the first time, just edging out Australia.
So, why do these countries consistently top the happiness leader board?
"The top 10 countries tend to rank high in all six variables, as well as emotional measures of well-being," Helliwell explained. But it’s not just about an innate sense of self for the people of these countries, it’s about the relationship they have with their government, their fellow citizens, both native-born and immigrants. It’s an active, not passive choice.
"It's true that last year all Finns were happier than the rest of the countries' residents, but their immigrants were also the happiest immigrants in the world," Helliwell points out. "It's not about Finnish DNA. It's the way life is lived in those countries.”
In a surprising move, the UK – just days away from potentially leaving the European Union and none the wiser about how that might look – has moved up four spaces from 19th last year to 15th this year. However, it trails behind Australia, Costa Rica, Israel, and Luxembourg.
The US, which has never made the top 10, dropped one spot this year, and five spots in total since 2017, to its lowest ranking ever at number 19.
It’s no surprise that the 10 lowest ranking countries have a combination of conflict, lack of wealth, and poor infrastructure. They include Haiti, Botswana, Syria, Malawi, Yemen, Rwanda, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Central African Republic, and South Sudan.
So, what were the important takeaways from the report?
In the wake of divisive political issues, such as Brexit and Trump, the report did have some advice for taking happiness into consideration. The report found that an increase in national happiness was a better indicator of whether a government would be re-elected than economic indicators such as GDP growth, unemployment, and inflation. It revealed that when people are happy, not only are they more likely to be more engaged in politics and vote, but they are more likely to vote for incumbent parties.
"If governments want to stay in power they should take the happiness of the people more seriously than economic measures," said Professor Richard Layard, a co-author of the report. "This is a vitally important finding – perhaps one of the most significant in a generation. It's essential that our leaders look beyond narrow financial measures and focus on the wider set of factors that really affect the wellbeing of the nation."