The 20 happiest countries in the world

The 20 happiest countries in the world
CC BY 2.0 plaits/flickr

The World Happiness Report 2015 takes a look at well-being for the good of social progress and public policy.

It’s possible that future cultural critics will look back on this era and call it the List Age. We manage to organize full articles into numbered bullet points; there are lists and more lists and many are banal at best. (Full disclosure: I am a chronic listicle writer!) But sometimes lists are important and have ramifications far beyond the trivial pleasure of ranking things. I'd say the World Happiness Report falls into that camp.

The first World Happiness Report was published in support of the 2012 United Nations High Level Meeting on Happiness and Well-Being, which was itself in response to the July 2011 Resolution of the UN General Assembly inviting countries to measure the happiness of their people and to use this to help drive their public policies. Imagine, governments taking into consideration the well-being of their constituents rather than things like money and power. What a concept.

With the publication of the 172-page World Happiness Report 2015, which is the third of the series, the case is further strengthened that well-being should be an essential factor in how the world measures its economic and social development. It digs deep into six key factors in determining who the happy people are, according to the report: GDP per capita; healthy years of life expectancy; social support (as measured by having someone to count on in times of trouble); trust (as measured by a perceived absence of corruption in government and business); perceived freedom to make life decisions; and generosity (as measured by recent donations, adjusted for differences in income).

"To build a better world requires that decision-makers give a central role to the happiness criterion in decision-making at every level, requiring changes both in how outcomes are evaluated and in how policies are designed and delivered," notes the report. "Rhetoric about happiness is not enough."

That said, the following countries landed in the top 20 positions:

1. Switzerland
2. Iceland
3. Denmark
4. Norway
5. Canada
6. Finland
7. Netherlands
8. Sweden
9. New Zealand
10. Australia
11. Israel
12. Costa Rica
13. Austria
14. Mexico
15. United States
16. Brazil
17. Luxembourg
18. Ireland
19. Belgium
20. United Arab Emirates

And rounding out the bottom of the list? In positions 154 to 158: Rwanda, Benin, Syria, Burundi and Togo.

The report is published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and is edited by Professor John F. Helliwell, of the University of British Columbia and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research; Lord Richard Layard, Director of the Well-Being Programme at LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance; and Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Director of the SDSN, and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General.

For the full report and ranking of all 158 countries included, visit

Tags: Economics | Health | United Nations


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