Norway displaced Denmark as the world’s happiest country in a new report released yesterday that called on nations to build social trust and equality to improve the well-being of their citizens.
The Nordic nations are the most content, according to the World Happiness Report 2017 produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative launched by the UN in 2012.
However, Norway, Denmark, Iceland (third place) and Switzerland (fourth place) were clustered so tightly that the differences among them are not statistically significant, the report’s authors said.
They scored 7.537, 7.522, 7.504 and 7.494 respectively out of a possible 10.
The report, which combines economic, health and polling data compiled by economists that are averaged over three years from 2014 to last year, was released yesterday to mark the UN’s International Day of Happiness.
Countries in sub-Saharan Africa, along with Syria and Yemen, are the least happy of the 155 countries ranked in the fifth annual report released at the UN.
“It’s the human things that matter. If the riches make it harder to have frequent and trustworthy relationship between people, is it worth it?” asked John Helliwell, the lead author of the report and an economist at the University of British Columbia in Canada (ranked No. 7). “The material can stand in the way of the human.”
The rankings are based on GDP per person, healthy life expectancy and four factors from global surveys. In those surveys, people give scores from one to 10 on how much social support they feel they have if something goes wrong, their freedom to make their own life choices, their sense of how corrupt their society is and how generous they are.
“The lowest countries are typically marked by low values in all six variables,” said the report, produced with the support of the Ernesto Illy Foundation.
“Happy countries are the ones that have a healthy balance of prosperity, as conventionally measured, and social capital, meaning a high degree of trust in a society, low inequality and confidence in government,” Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the SDSN and a special adviser to the UN secretary-general, said in an interview.
The aim of the report, he added, is to provide another tool for governments, business and civil society to help their countries find a better way to well-being.
Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden rounded out the top 10 countries.
South Sudan, Liberia, Guinea, Togo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Central African Republic were at the bottom.
Taiwan was ranked No. 33 (with a score of 6.422 out of 10), while the US dropped one spot to 14, Germany was ranked 16, followed by the UK (19) and France (31).
Sachs said the US is falling in the ranking due to inequality, distrust and corruption.
Economic measures that the administration of US President Donald Trump is trying to pursue, he added, will make things worse.
“They are all aimed at increasing inequality — tax cuts at the top, throwing people off the healthcare rolls, cutting Meals on Wheels in order to raise military spending. I think everything that has been proposed goes in the wrong direction,” he said.
Sachs would like nations to follow the United Arab Emirates and other countries that have appointed Ministers of Happiness.
“I want governments to measure this, discuss it, analyze it and understand when they have been off on the wrong direction,” he said.