The happiest countries in the world are Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada and Austria. The reason for their rankings is linked to high life expectancy, good GDP and a strong level of social support.
Happiness is subjective, meaning that what makes you happy might not necessarily make another citizen happy in a different country. With that in mind, how is it possible to determine the true “happiness index” of countries?
Although happiness is subjective, there are certain parameters common to all people that can be used as a yardstick to measure happiness. So… is money the only factor that generates happiness in people? Is a flourishing economy directly proportionate to happy citizens?
World Happiness Report (WHR)
The World Happiness Report (WHR) is prepared by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. It ranks 156 countries based on the happiness perception of the citizens. Begun in April 2012, the 7th report from WHR will be released this year.
Which are the top 10 happiest countries in the world?
- Finland (again)
- The Netherlands
- New Zealand
Using 7 measurable parameters of happiness, the World Happiness Report 2019 has come up with a list of countries ranking from the highest level of happiness to the lowest.
What are the seven happiness parameters?
1. GDP: Gross Domestic Product or GDP is the total value of goods and services produced by a country annually. GDP per capita divides GDP by the total population of a country. PPP or purchasing power parity helps to compare the currencies of the world. Here, GDP per capita in terms of PPP is adjusted to constant 2011 international dollars, which is taken from the world development indicator, released by the World Bank.
2. Life Expectancy: This refers to the statistical measure of average lifespan among human beings. In this case, the data for life expectancy was taken from the World Health Organization (WHO).
3. Social Support: This metric is calculated from the Gallup World Poll (GWP) and relates to situations such as, if one is in trouble, does one have organizations and infrastructural support, in lieu of friends and relatives.
4. Freedom: This refers to flexibility of life choices and is again asked using the GWP questions, such as asking citizens whether they are satisfied with the level of freedom they have in making critical choices about their own lives.
5. Generosity: A quality measured by asking questions such as whether citizens donate money or not.
6. Perception of corruption: This relates to whether citizens see corruption in the country’s governmental or business realms.
7. Positive affect: This element refers to the feelings of happiness and joy experienced on a regular basis.
Why are these countries the happiest?
Finland ranks high on generosity, freedom offered by the landscape and social structure, low crime rates, and an applause-worthy GDP.
Denmark ranks high in life expectancy and has a small wealth gap. Norway offers good social support, along with low crime rates.
Iceland has very accessible education, gender equality in terms of wages, low taxes and free health care services.
The Netherlands’ pace of life and freedom makes its citizens very happy.
Switzerland’s tax breaks, life expectancy and thriving economy all keep the citizens happy.
Canada and Sweden’s life expectancy and Austria’s freedom and social support have elevated them into the happiest echelon.
Why should happiness be an indicator of a country’s development?
Problems with National Income and GDP
National income or Gross domestic product (GDP) is not a holistic approach in terms of understanding a nation’s development.
In a country such as India, which has a huge income disparity, the average national income might be higher because of a few billionaires. However, this does not accurately depict the lives of individual citizens, as a huge chunk of them also fall below the poverty line (distribution and allocation of income).
A higher national income might show the country’s growth, but that’s not the same as development. As Simon Kuznets puts it, “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income.”
Human Development Index and Happiness
Thus, a more holistic approach was developed by the United Nations known as the Human Development Index (HDI). The World Happiness Report that we viewed works on the lines of the HDI. The Human Development Index takes into account the standard of living, health and educational parameters to ensure the overall wellbeing of an individual, a comprehensive assessment that cannot be achieved with a GDP analysis alone.
Life expectancy covers the health parameter, years of schooling (literacy and school enrollment ratio) covers education, and gross national income per capita covers economics. Thus, HDI tries to accurately measure the happiness levels of a country from various angles. A happy citizen is not just happy because of higher income; their standard of living, literacy and health play an important role in making any person happy.
This does not mean that money is not an indicator of happiness, but it is not the sole factor. Money is an important indicator at lower income levels, but as income rises, money takes a back seat in terms of measuring the overall happiness of an individual.
Welfare economics and Utilitarianism, evolving from Aristotle to Bentham to Amartya Sen, have focused on wellbeing as an important indicator, thus leading to the birth of HDI. When you see the happiness list come out next year, you’ll be more aware of the factors that drive a country’s overall happiness!