These Are the 20 Happiest Countries

Public Domain. A lake in Finland. Who wouldn't be happy living here? (Photo: Max Pixel)

The World Happiness Report 2019 is out – Scandinavia remains pleased, the US takes a tumble.

The World Happiness Report 2019, which ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be, has just been released at the United Nations.

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 136-page World Happiness Report 2019, which is the seventh 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.

This latest report ranked the countries using three years of surveys taken by Gallup from 2016 to 2018. On page 91, the report explains: "Happiness was measured with the question, 'Taken all together, how would you say things are these days – would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?' with the response choices coded 1, 2, or 3."

Every year the report reads like a love letter to Scandinavia; this year is no exception. What is different for 2019 is the poor United States of America – we went from 13th to 14th place in 2017, tumbled to 18th place in 2018, and have now sunk to 19th place – the worst ranking that the USA has received since the report was founded.

Happiest Countries

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

Facts About the U.S. Ranking

So what's going on with The States? Co-author Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, writes on page 127: "As I noted in last year’s World Happiness Report (Sachs, 2018), the long-term rise in U.S. income per person has been accompanied by several trends adverse to SWB [subjective well-being]: worsening health conditions for much of the population; declining social trust; and declining confidence in the government. Whatever benefits in SWB might have accrued as the result of rising incomes seem to have been offset by these adverse trends. This year, I propose a common driver of many of America’s social maladies: a mass-addiction society."

On page 131, Sachs goes on to discuss the rising prevalence of addictions, including opioids, Internet-related, eating-related, and possibly others, and how these epidemics come with rising suicide rates and overdoses thanks to substance abuse, rising obesity-related to eating addictions, and rising adolescent depression apparently related to Internet and related addictions.

What to do about it? With the U.S. now having consecutive years of falling life expectancy and declining measured subjective well-being – something has to change. Sachs writes, "A public policy response built around well-being rather than corporate profits would place the rising addiction rates under intensive and urgent scrutiny, and would design policies to respond to these rising challenges." Measures he suggests, among a list of great ideas, include stringent regulation of the prescription drug industry, and regulations to "limit advertising and to enforce warning messages regarding addictive products and activities, including digital technologies, obesogenic foods, lotteries and gambling activities." The current administration's propensity for decreasing regulation, rather than more stringent oversight, may not bode well for future happiness reports.

10 Countries Where Happiness Is in Short Order

146. Zimbabwe
147. Haiti
148. Botswana
149. Syria
150. Malawi
151. Yemen
152. Rwanda
153. Tanzania
154. Afghanistan
155. Central African Republic
156. South Sudan

The report, produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) with the support of the Ernesto Illy Foundation, is edited by Professor John F. Helliwell of the University of British Columbia and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research; Professor Richard Layard, co-director of the Well-Being Programme at LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance; and Professor Sachs, director of SDSN and the Earth Institute’s Center on Sustainable Development.

You can view the entire library of reports to compare how countries have changed.