The World Happiness Report: A Happiness Index

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Looking at how people in other countries live their lives can offer insight into patterns in the US. One area of interest experts often look at is happiness. Happiness is a universal emotion often associated with success in various areas of life. However, the definition of what makes one happy can change by region. 

Since 2012, the United Nations has created a World Happiness Report, which measures the happiness of over 100 participating countries. Understanding which countries are happiest and why might offer insight into what makes you content.

Improving our mental health often takes hard work

How is the world happiness report measured?

The World Happiness Report uses various methods to measure the happiness of a country, including the following. 

Income level 

Studies have found that money may "buy happiness." Although previous studies stated that happiness caps out at $75K, new studies show that any amount over $75K may increase happiness and well-being. However, people who equate money with happiness may be less happy. 


Well-being can be subjective. However, people are often satisfied when they have more positive experiences than negative experiences. Having your social, mental, and physical needs met by your living environment, culture, and government may also contribute. 


A country going through political turmoil can affect the population's overall happiness. This factor can apply to economically powerful countries that may not experience war firsthand but are also the subject of political controversies. War-torn countries that are going through crises often rank low in happiness due to levels of trauma. 

Daily life 

Some countries are well-off, but societal expectations and systems may impact happiness more. Countries that pressure people to succeed at all costs may end up unhappy despite how advanced they are.

Personal experience 

Understanding how happy people feel may depend on the experience of the citizens. Surveying citizens offers an idea of happiness, values, and culture. However, it can be helpful to keep in mind that happiness is a vague concept, and each person may define happiness differently.

What is the happiest country in 2023? 

Although the country is not involved in significant political discussions, it often focuses on its people's happiness and health. From 2020 to 2022, Finland was named the happiest country in the world. One reason citizens rank it high is due to its public health system. 

Finland citizens pay high taxes and are often happy to do so because they trust their government. Their taxes go towards improving the quality of life. Finland has free education, healthcare, and other public services. In addition, it is often an accepting place for minorities like the LGBTQ+ community. Finland is also safe, with a low crime rate. 

Where does the US rank? 

From 2020 through 2022, the US was ranked 15th worldwide in happiness, succeeded by countries like New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Ireland. The US is a wealthy country with opportunity, but there are a few reasons it may not be ranked higher, including the following.  

Changing political climates 

The US often experiences political divide, and significant presidential elections can be a cause. In addition, the US has many cities associated with poverty, low education, and a lack resources, which can impact how people vote and treat others. 

Expensive healthcare 

Finding healthcare in the US is difficult for many, which may lead to physical and mental illnesses. Illness can be associated with a lack of happiness. Those who aren't insured may avoid healthcare to not go into debt. Insurance plans can also charge high co-pays, which may be inaccessible for those using them. Although welfare plans are available, they may not apply to anyone who has an income over the poverty level or doesn't live with a disability. 

Poor education 

Opinions on public schooling in the US can be mixed. Some schools might have higher crime rates or high dropout rates. In addition, schools can be expensive, and many people forgo university due to fear of lifelong debt. 

Varied results 

The US has 50 separate states, and each state can set its own laws. Due to the difference in laws across the country, some states may rank happier than others. In addition, the isolation of a state can make an impact. States with fewer cities and citizens often rank higher in rates of depression

Substance use 

The US has the highest rate of substance use worldwide, making up 6% of the world population currently using substances. The most used substances in the US include opioids, which have a high rate of injury and death. Substance use can increase mental illness, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance use disorders. 

Unrealistic expectations 

The US is presented as a land of opportunity. However, there are many disparities within the country, and many citizens do not receive support from the government. People are unhappy with a political divide and a lack of lifesaving services. 

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Which countries are the least happy? 

The ten most unhappy countries in the world from 2020 to 2022 were as follows, with the worst listed first: 

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

The above countries have lower happiness levels due to low life expectancy, ongoing traumatic events, war, gender inequality, crime, poor living conditions, poverty, hunger, and other challenging experiences. 

The unhappiest country in the entire world is Afghanistan, a country in the Middle East. With a high crime rate and recurrence of abuse against women, Afghanistan can be dangerous to live in. 

Improving our mental health often takes hard work

How to become happier 

If you want to improve the happiness of your country, you might benefit from caring for yourself. Although you can't necessarily change the overall structure of the US and the systemic challenges you face, you can learn to cope with emotions that arise and find ways to love and appreciate your daily life and relationships. A counselor may offer support if you're living with a mental illness or want professional guidance. 

Many people struggle to receive therapy in the US due to high healthcare costs. For this reason, counseling through an online therapy platform like BetterHelp may be more attainable. With an online platform, individuals can send messages or questions to their therapist and schedule one video, phone, or chat session a week. The convenience of seeing a provider from home may also be beneficial if you're experiencing depression or feel stressed when you leave home. 

For many mental illnesses and symptoms, online therapy has been proven as effective as in-person therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be taught online to offer support in reframing maladaptive thoughts. 


The World Happiness Report gives a glimpse into the happiness of other countries. While it may not consider every factor, it provides insight into what factors the US could use to improve citizen health and well-being. If you're struggling to find happiness in your day-to-day life due to the area you live in, you're not alone. Consider coping with and exploring these feelings with a licensed mental health professional for further support.
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