Happy International Day of Happiness (March 20th)! It’s a thing apparently and to celebrate, we bring you a review of the 2017 World Happiness Report, conveniently released today. The good news? Argentina ranks 24th among the 155 countries studied, but Norway wins first, beating out Denmark as the “happiest country in the world.”
Annually since 2012, economists have compiled data on country finances (GDP), health outcomes, and happiness surveys. Respondents are asked to rank, from zero to ten, with zero being the most unsatisfied, how happy they were with the following:
- Quality of social support (benefits)
- Freedom to choose ones own way of life
- Perception of corruption in society
- How generous people are
Generally, the happiest countries do not need to contend with from poverty, have effective social programs, and score well on the community-based questionnaire. Let’s take a look at the players on the top, the bottom and some of the most surprising changes.
Top Five: Norway Leads the Pack
As per usual, Norway’s social programs and public perception of happiness were among the top. However, gas prices fell over the past year, which gave Norway an extra economic and public survey boost among the rest of the pack. Trailing behind, in order, are Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and Finland (although the report indicates the results are so close, there is no statistical significance between them).
According to Meik Wiking, Executive Director of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, “What happens in Nordic countries is a sensation of community and understanding in the greater community.”
Extreme Poverty in Lowest Ranked Countries
John Helliwell, the report’s main author and economist for the University of British Columbia, along with other contributors note financial security is a major part of the happiness equation. The lowest ranked countries, including The Central African Republic, Burundi, Tanzania, Syria and Rwanda, have populations that suffer from extreme poverty and uneven development patterns.
According to Helliwell, once poverty has been stabilized, finances play less a role in happiness. Public programs and perception of community, instead, become the determinants of country happiness.
Latin America: Over a Quarter of the Top 50 Countries
Of the top 50 happiest countries to live, Central and South American countries placed 13 times. Argentina lands in the middle, with seat 24. Costa Rica leads the pack with position 12, followed by Chile (20), Brazil (22), Mexico (25), Uruguay (28), Guatemala (29), Panama (30), Colombia (36), Nicaragua (43), Ecuador (44), El Salvador (45) and Belize (50).
Haiti, still grappling with multiple natural and economic disasters, is ranked one of the lowest in the world, at position 145.
Biggest Changes in the Last Decade
Over the last decade, the United States has fallen five percent in its happiness ratings. While still in the top 10 percent of the countries studied, the US fell from position 13 to 14 this year. Social indicators are more at fault than economic or health reasons, as the average wage and life expectancy of US citizens rose over the last year. Overall, US survey respondents reported less perception of generosity, freedom and social support, and more political corruption.
In the last decade, the largest drops in happiness rankings, however were in Venezuela (82) and The Central African Republic (155). Nicaragua (43) and Latvia (54), on the other hand, have grown the most.
While a survey of “happiness” may seem inane, the researchers hope the findings inform public policy: “Increasingly, happiness is considered to be the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy,” (Executive Summary). Understanding what is successful in one country won’t automatically apply to another, but it’s hard to argue with the idea that understanding the success of one country through a more holistic quantitative tool may be a start to informing integrated policy in the future for others.