The list of the happiest (and saddest) countries in the world was revealed on Wednesday, and as per usual, Finland tops the list. Several other Scandinavian and European countries take many of the top spots, and South Sudan comes in dead last.
How do you objectively measure something like happiness?
The U.N. looks at six key areas that support happiness and well-being: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support, and generosity. Many of those things — such as income, freedom, and life expectancy — can easily be sussed out by looking at readily-available data. Others — such as trust, social support, and generosity — have to be looked at in context.
For example, for New Zealand — No. 8 — report co-editor John Helliwell cited the Kiwis’ collective ability to lift each other up and to support each other in the wake of tragedies, like the devastating 2011 earthquake or the recent mosque shootings.
“With high social capital, where people are connected — people rally and help each other and (after the earthquake) rebuild immediately.”
So how do things shake out?
For the second year in a row, Finland came out on top.
Why is Finland the happiest country 2 years running? 1) strong social safety net, with successful effort to end homelessness, 2) high-quality education system, with commitment to closing disparity gaps, 3) dads spend as much time with kids as moms. https://t.co/po534DcHo3— Keith Ellison (@keithellison) March 20, 2019
In fact, Finland was essentially in an eight-way tie with the rest of Scandinavia. Denmark came in at No. 2, Norway at No. 3, Iceland at No. 4, and Sweden at No. 7. Two mainland European countries helped to round out the list — the Netherlands at No. 5 and Switzerland at No. 6. Canada, the only country in the Americas to make the top ten, comes in at No. 9. Canada was followed by another European nation, Austria, at No. 10.
All ten of the top nations on the list have high taxes that contribute to generous social safety nets, as well as universal health care. This, in turn, contributes to high life expectancy, per the report. These nations also boast strong communities which support each other, and populations which generally look out for one another.
Where does the United States come in?
The United States ranks No. 19, and has lost standing in recent years.
The U.S. was No. 18 in 2018, and No. 14 in 2017.
Why the drop? Unlike the nations comprising the top ten, the U.S. doesn’t have the social safety nets of those countries — at least, not to the extent that they do. Nor does the United States promote universal health care. There are other problems as well. For example, addiction is on the rise, largely due to the opioid epidemic. And the use of social media is believed to be limiting face-to-face human interaction, thwarting our sense of community.
Who’s at the bottom?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bottom nations on the list are some of the poorest and most oppressed countries on Earth. South Sudan comes in last, with Central African Republic and Afghanistan occupying the previous two spots on the list. Haiti is the only country in the Americas to make the bottom ten, coming in as the tenth-saddest country in the world.