Norwegians have more reason than ever to celebrate the International Day of Happiness.
After ranking fourth for the last two years, Norway jumped three spots and displaced three-time winner Denmark to take the title of “world’s happiest country” for the first time.
Denmark dropped to second place this year, followed by Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand and Australia and Sweden (which tied for ninth place), according to the latest World Happiness Report, released in March 2017 by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations.
Denmark won the title three of the four times the report has been issued, losing to Switzerland only once.
The United States came in 14th place, dropping one place from last year.
Other superpowers didn’t fare better than Northern Europe either.
Germany came in 16th place for the second year, while the United Kingdom moved up four spots to 19th place and Russia moved up seven spots to 49th place. Japan moved up two spots to 51st place, while China moved up four spots to 79th place.
People in Burundi are the least satisfied with their lives, according to the survey of 156 countries, but residents of Benin (153rd place), Afghanistan (154), Togo (155) and Syria (156) aren’t doing much better.
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Measuring happiness is important
Happiness is a better measure of human welfare than measuring education, health, poverty, income and good government separately, the report’s editors argue.
Real gross domestic product per capita is one of the key measurements, said the report.
Others include generosity, a healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices and freedom from corruption, the report’s authors argued.
They said it’s a better measure of human welfare than analyzing education, good government, health, income and poverty separately.
“The World Happiness Report continues to draw global attention around the need to create sound policy for what matters most to people – their well-being,” said Jeffrey Sachs, the report’s co-editor and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, in a statement.
“As demonstrated by many countries, this report gives evidence that happiness is a result of creating strong social foundations. It’s time to build social trust and healthy lives, not guns or walls. Let’s hold our leaders to this fact.”
“Indeed the goals themselves embody the very idea that human well-being should be nurtured through a holistic approach that combines economic, social and environmental objectives,” Sachs said. “Rather than taking a narrow approach focused solely on economic growth,we should promote societies that are prosperous, just, and environmentally sustainable.”
Not just about the money
Iceland and Ireland both suffered through banking crises that dramatically affected their economies but didn’t greatly affect their happiness, according to the report. What both countries have is a high degree of social support, enough to put Iceland in third place and Ireland in 19th place this year, according to the report.
“It’s a remarkable case in point,” said report co-editor John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia.
“By choosing to produce oil deliberately and investing the proceeds for the benefit of future generations, Norway has protected itself from the volatile ups and downs of many other oil-rich economies.”
“This emphasis on the future over the present is made easier by high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance,” added Helliwell, who is also co-director of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.
“All of these are found in Norway, as well as in the other top countries.”
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Inequality of happiness
A country may have really rich and really poor people, and the poor people don’t have enough money to construct a good life for themselves, he said. Or people may have money but have no social support or friends, or live in an area where there’s government corruption or lack of freedom to make their own life choices.
“People tend to spend the majority of their lives working, so it is important to understand the role that employment and unemployment play in shaping happiness,” said Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, a professor at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School.
“The research reveals that happiness differs considerably across employment status, job type and industry sectors.”
De Neve, who co-authored the report’s chapter on happiness at work, added that people in well-paid roles are happier, but money is only one predictive measure of happiness.
“Work-life balance, job variety and the level of autonomy are other significant drivers,” said De Neve.
“There is a clear distinction in happiness between white and blue collar jobs with managers or professionals evaluating the quality of their lives at a much higher level than those in manual labor jobs even controlling for any possible confounding factors.”
The report focused on other factors affecting happiness.
“In rich countries the biggest single cause of misery is mental illness,” said Professor Richard Layard, director of the Wellbeing Programme at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance.
The birth of ‘Gross National Happiness’
It’s no surprise that Bhutan would come out on top, despite not being a world economic power: Its Prime Minister proposed a World Happiness Day to the United Nations in 2011 and launched this international focus on happiness.
Following in Bhutan’s footsteps, the U.N. General Assembly declared March 20 as World Happiness Day in 2012, recognizing “happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world.”
The first of five World Happiness Reports was first published in April 2012 in conjunction with the U.N. High Level Meeting on happiness and well-being. Since 2012, many governments and governmental organizations have made well-being or happiness a priority.
In February, the United Arab Emirates held a full-day World Happiness meeting. There was World Happiness Summit in Miami on March 17-19, while Erasmus University in Rotterdam is hosting three-day meeting on happiness research and policy starting Monday.