Finland tops the rankings of the happiest countries in the world for the fifth year running
Happiness is a nebulous thing; hard to grasp and harder to hold onto. Scientists, economists and philosophers have defined it through the ages as a combination of different things, among them health, wealth, companionship and security.
Ever since 2011, when the United Nations (UN) adopted the Bhutan-sponsored Resolution 65/309, Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development, governments have worked to give more importance to happiness and well-being in determining how to achieve and measure social and economic development.
As such, various indices attempt to rank the happiest countries in the world on an annual basis. Now in its 10th year, the World Happiness Report from the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) is particularly interesting as it ranks 146 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be.
“A decade ago, governments around the world expressed the desire to put happiness at the heart of the global development agenda, and they adopted a UN General Assembly resolution for that purpose. The World Happiness Report grew out of that worldwide determination to find the path to greater global well-being. Now, at a time of pandemic and war, we need such an effort more than ever. And the lesson of the World Happiness Report over the years is that social support, generosity to one another, and honesty in government are crucial for well-being. World leaders should take heed. Politics should be directed as the great sages long ago insisted: to the well-being of the people, not the power of the rulers.”
Jeffrey Sachs, World Happiness Report
The SDSN employs an international group of economists, neuroscientists and statisticians to survey citizens on their subjective wellbeing to produce a comprehensive annual list of the happiest countries in the world.
SDSN highlights that its rankings are not an index like the longer running Human Development Index (HDI) and more recent Happy Planet Index (HPI). These are often influenced by private sponsors and only partly draw on self-assessment – or make no use of it at all.
SDSN emphasises that its findings draw heavily on data from population samples in each country, using a life evaluation survey to produce subjective wellbeing data.
The report principally relies on asking a straightforward, subjective question of more than 1,000 people in each country:
“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?”
World Happiness Report
That is not to say the report is without a scientific basis. Economic and social factors are considered along with the survey (namely GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and perceptions of corruption), but the focus is on how happy citizens say they are; not how happy statisticians think they should be.
For the first time, the report also used data from social media to compare people’s emotions before and after the Covid-19 pandemic. They found “strong increases in anxiety and sadness” in 18 countries but a fall in feelings of anger.
10 happiest countries
Once again, Finland is named the happiest country in the world. Rounding out the rest of the top 10 are countries that have consistently ranked among the happiest.
10 unhappiest countries
At the other end of the table, war-scarred Afghanistan remains last, as its humanitarian crisis deepened since the Taliban returned to power in 2021.
The geography of happiness
Unsurprisingly, there is a strong correlation between unhappiness and the world’s poorest and most dangerous countries. Eight of the 10 unhappiest nations are in Africa with the other two, Afghanistan and Lebanon, embroiled in conflict. This year’s report was compiled before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Eight of the 10 happiest countries are European nations with only Israel and New Zealand from outside Europe. The UK remains in 17th, while the USA is ranked 16th, up three places from last year and the highest-placed country in the Americas. France climbed to 20th, its highest position yet. Australia is 12th.
The highest-ranked country in the Middle East is Bahrain (21) with Taiwan (26) and Singapore (27) the happiest countries in Asia. Costa Rica (23) is the happiest in Latin America with Uruguay (30) the highest-placed in South America. Mauritius (52) is the happiest African nation in the index.
Bulgaria (85), Romania (28) and Serbia (43) recorded the biggest improvements in wellbeing scores, while Lebanon (145), Venezuela (108) and Afghanistan (146) recorded the largest declines in their scores.
Happiest countries in the world 2022 – complete rankings
The World Happiness Report compiles data from the last three years of available surveys. The overall happiness scores are calculated from the average of the six factors mentioned above.
|67||Bosnia and Herz.||5.768|
|81||Hong Kong (SAR)||5.425|
Countries that do not have data from 2020 or 2021. Their averages are based on the 2019 report.
The latest report was compiled before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Top 10 happiest cities
In 2020, the report ranked individual cities by residents’ perception of their own well-being. Unsurprisingly, Finland’s capital Helsinki was in first place.
- Helsinki, Finland
- Aarhus, Denmark
- Wellington, New Zealand
- Zurich, Switzerland
- Copenhagen, Denmark
- Bergen, Norway
- Oslo, Norway
- Tel Aviv, Israel
- Stockholm, Sweden
- Brisbane, Australia
► View the complete 2020 city rankings here.