The 20 happiest countries on the planet

The results are in for the UN's World Happiness Report 2016. Who wins this year's crown of contentment?

WIth global interest in using well-being as a way to look at the quality of human development, the first World Happiness Report was published in support of the 2012 United Nations High Level Meeting on Happiness and Well-Being. That effort was itself in response to the 2011 Resolution of the UN General Assembly inviting countries to measure the happiness of their people to help drive public policies. Imagine, governments taking into consideration the contentment of their constituents as a primary consideration in determining policy!

With the publication of the World Happiness Report 2016, which is the fourth of the series, the case is further strengthened that well-being should be an essential factor in how the world evaluates its economic and social development.

"Measuring self-reported happiness and achieving well-being should be on every nation's agenda as they begin to pursue the Sustainable Development Goals," said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. "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. Rather than taking a narrow approach focused solely on economic growth, we should promote societies that are prosperous, just, and environmentally sustainable."

As with the previous reports, the 2016 edition relied on how people evaluate their lives on a scale ranging from 0 to 10. The rankings, which are based on surveys in 156 countries during 2013 to 2015, show an average score of 5.1 (out of 10). The six key variables used to determine the rankings are: GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity.

This year's top 10 are the same as in last year's report, though positions have changed; for example, Switzerland got bumped off the top this year, and Denmark inched up two spots. But you can see that even in the top 20, the margin is only .65 points, meaning that these countries are running neck to neck where contentment is concerned. Here's where the happy campers are:

1. Denmark (7.526)
2. Switzerland (7.509)
3. Iceland (7.501)
4. Norway (7.498)
5. Finland (7.413)
6. Canada (7.404)
7. Netherlands (7.339)
8. New Zealand (7.334)
9. Australia (7.313)
10. Sweden (7.291)
11. Israel (7.267)
12. Austria (7.119)
13. United States (7.104)
14. Costa Rica (7.087)
15. Puerto Rico (7.039)
16. Germany (6.994)
17. Brazil (6.952)
18. Belgium (6.929)
19. Ireland (6.907)
20. Luxembourg (6.871)

On the other end of the list, the sad bottom, Burundi took last place with a score of 2.905 showing low numbers for GDP per capita and freedom to make life choices. (We're sorry, Burundi.)

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.

To see the full report and all the rankings, go to worldhappiness.report.

Tags: Economics | Health | United Nations

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