Nordic nations dominate in world happiness report, while Togo is the most improved nation

20 March, 2018

If you want to find happiness then move north to the Nordic region of Europe. That is among the key observations from the United Nations backed 'The World Happiness Report 2018', which ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels.

The sixth edition of the annual report from the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network ranks Finland as the world’s happiest country as measured by surveys undertaken by Gallup from 2015-2017. The nation has jumped up from fifth last year to knock Norway off top spot and into second place with Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, and Australia making up the rest of the top ten. Interestingly, the United States of America ranked 18th, dropping down four spots from last year.

The results show change, but a general theme of stability. While there may be a new number one, the top five and top ten positions are held by the same countries as in the last two years, although with some swapping of places. Four different countries have held top spot in the four most recent reports - Denmark, Switzerland, Norway and now Finland.

CHART - A listing of the world's top and bottom 30 happiest (top) and least happiness (bottom) nationsSource: World Happiness Report 2018

All the top countries tend to have high values for all six of the key variables that have been found to support well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. Among the top countries, differences are small enough that that year-to-year changes in the rankings are to be expected.

Analysis of happiness changes from 2008-2010 to 2015-2015 shows of the 141 countries with data for 2008-2010 and 2015-2017, 114 had significant changes. 58 were significant increases, ranging from 0.14 to 1.19 points on the 0 to 10 scale. There were also 59 significant decreases, ranging from -0.12 to -2.17 points, while the remaining 24 countries revealed no significant trend from 2008-2010 to 2015-2017.

Togo is the biggest gainer, moving up 17 places in the overall rankings from the last place position it held as recently as in the 2015 rankings. Other nations reporting strong happiness gains are Latvia, Bulgaria, Sierra Leone, Serbia, Macedonia, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Hungary and Romania. The biggest loser is Venezuela, down 2.2 points on the 0 to 10 scale with notable happiness declines also in Malawi, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Botswana, Madagascar, Albania and Rwanda.

CHART - The significant gains (top) and losses (bottom) are very unevenly distributed across the world, and sometimes also within continents Source: World Happiness Report 2018

This year’s report also considers the happiness of immigrants with insights across four chapters on migration, both internal (within-country) and international (cross-country), investigating the happiness of migrants, their families left behind, and others living in the cities and countries receiving migrants.

“The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born,” says co-editor Professor John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia on the findings.

All of the top ten countries for overall happiness in 2015-2017 are in the top 11 countries for immigrant happiness based on surveys covering 2005-2015. The closeness of the two rankings shows that the happiness of immigrants depends predominantly on the quality of life where they now live, illustrating a general pattern of convergence. It is clear that happiness can change, and does change, according to the quality of the society in which people live.

As the report notes: “The countries with the happiest immigrants are not the richest countries, but instead the countries with a more balanced set of social and institutional supports for better lives”.

“Although immigrants come from countries with very different levels of happiness, their reported life evaluations converge towards those of other residents in their new countries,” explains Mr Helliwell. “Those who move to happier countries gain, while those who move to less happy countries lose,” though the adjustment of happiness is not complete, as migrants still reflect in part the happiness of their birth country.

FIND OUT MORE about happiness and migration trends and view the full 172-page study: World Happiness Report 2018