Daily Briefing

The happiest (and unhappiest) countries: Where America ranks


Despite the hardships of the last few years, people are actually slightly happier now than they were before the pandemic, according to the 11th annual World Happiness Report — a finding that the researchers linked to increases in kindness and social support.

Global happiness largely the same even during the pandemic

For the report, researchers surveyed over 100,000 people in 137 countries about their quality of life between 2020 and 2022. Participants were asked to evaluate their happiness on six key factors:

  • Social support
  • Income
  • Health
  • Freedom
  • Generosity
  • Absence of corruption

Overall, the researchers found that levels of misery worldwide declined slightly during the pandemic, and benevolence for others increased by around 25%. On average, participants over 60 reported being happier than younger groups.

When asked about their recent emotions, participants were twice as likely to report positive feelings, such as laughter, enjoyment, and interest than they were to report negative emotions like worry, sadness, and anger.

According to the researchers, the world faced "undoubted pains" during the pandemic, but this was "offset by increases in the extent to which respondents had been able to discover and share the capacity to care for each other in difficult times."

"Average happiness and our country rankings, for emotions as well as life evaluations, have been remarkably stable during the three COVID-19 years," said John Helliwell, a professor of economics at the University of British Columbia and a co-editor of the report. "Even during these difficult years, positive emotions have remained twice as prevalent as negative ones, and feelings of positive social support twice as strong as those of loneliness."

However, the researchers also cautioned that their findings may not be applicable to everyone since "some of those most affected by COVID-19, including the homeless and the institutionalized, are not included in the survey samples."

The happiest (and unhappiest) countries

The report also ranked countries by their overall level of happiness. The 10 happiest countries during the pandemic were:

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Iceland
  4. Israel
  5. Netherlands
  6. Sweden
  7. Norway
  8. Switzerland
  9. Luxembourg
  10. New Zealand

According to Axios, this is the sixth year in a row that Finland has topped the happiest countries list. The United States ranked 15th, a slight improvement from last year's report where it ranked 16th.

On the other end of the spectrum, the 10 unhappiest countries during the pandemic were:

  1. Zambia
  2. Tanzania
  3. Comoros
  4. Malawi
  5. Botswana
  6. Democratic Republic of Congo
  7. Zimbabwe
  8. Sierra Leone
  9. Lebanon
  10. Afghanistan

"The ultimate goal of politics and ethics should be human wellbeing," said Jeffrey Sachs, a professor at Columbia University and a co-editor of the report. "The happiness movement shows that wellbeing is not a soft and vague idea but rather focuses on areas of life of critical importance: material conditions, mental and physical wealth, personal virtues, and good citizenship. We need to turn this wisdom into practical results to achieve more peace, prosperity, trust, civility – and yes, happiness – in our societies." (Falconer, Axios, 3/20; Lefroy, New York Post, 3/20; Booth, The Guardian, 3/19; World Happiness Report, accessed 3/21)


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