The 20 Happiest Countries on the Planet

CC BY 2.0. camdiluv

The numbers are in for the World Happiness Report 2017; who wins this year's crown of contentment? Think of it as a love letter to Scandinavia.

While at first it might sound like yet another faux “holiday” created by some banal marketing department somewhere, International Day of Happiness is actually the real deal. Founded in 2012 by the United Nations, the day is dedicated to recognizing the importance of global happiness. How novel! The International Day of Happiness Resolution 66/281 declares the pursuit of happiness as a human right and a "fundamental human goal." In support of happiness, in 2015 the UN launched 17 Sustainable Development Goals that seek to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet – three key aspects that lead to well-being and happiness.

Which brings us to the World Happiness Report, which has been released annually since 2012. Published in support of the International Day of Happiness, the aim of the authors of this meticulously researched 201-page report is to create a tool that can be used in forming positive public policy.

The report relies on six factors: 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). The data was collected from surveys of people – and how they evaluate their lives on a scale running from 0 to 10 – in 156 countries.

This year's top 10 are the same as determined in last year's report, but there have been some position swaps. Last year’s number one, Denmark, has slipped into second while Norway has jumped up three places into first position, though the difference amongst the frontrunners are miniscule. The United States went from number 13 last year to 14 this year.

1. Norway (7.537)
2. Denmark (7.522)
3. Iceland (7.504)
4. Switzerland (7.494)
5. Finland (7.469)
6. Netherlands (7.377)
7. Canada (7.316)
8. New Zealand (7.314)
9. Australia (7.284)
10. Sweden (7.284)
11. Israel (7.213)
12. Costa Rica (7.079)
13. Austria (7.006)
14. United States (6.993)
15. Ireland (6.977)
16. Germany (6.951)
17. Belgium (6.891)
18. Luxembourg (6.863)
19. United Kingdom (6.714)
20. Chile (6.652)

The prevalence of Scandinavia in the top cannot be missed. And of course; wealthy nations, abundance, gorgeous food, beautiful landscape, what's not to be happy about? But it's the nuances that resonate. The report notes that the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden), all scored far higher than the U.S. in happiness – even though the U.S. has a higher level of economic development, here's why:

"If we compare the US with a simple average score across the Nordic countries in 2016, we can see that the Nordic countries are 0.73 points higher on the Cantril ladder [the 0-10 scale], even though the U.S. has a higher GDP per capita – around $53,000 compared with $47,000 in terms of PPP [purchasing power parity] ... The explanation is that the Nordic countries far outpace the U.S. on personal freedom, social support, and lower corruption, thereby accounting for the higher levels of Nordic happiness."

And unfortunately, there's a sad bottom end to the list.

151. Rwanda (3.471)
152. Syria (3.462)
153. Tanzania (3.349)
154. Burundi (2.905)
155. Central African Republic (2.693)

The report is produced 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; Professor Richard Layard, director of the Well-Being Programme at LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance; and Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of SDSN.

It's a really fascinating read. While happiness may be subjective, there is definitely a science behind it – and if employing comprehensive research and analyses of that elusive state known as bliss can be put to good work in making the world a better place? Well that's a very happy thing. Read the whole report here.