The World Happiness Report: A Happiness Index

By Rachel Lustbader|Updated April 13, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Aaron Dutil , LMHC, LPC

Looking at how people in other countries live their lives can be quite an eye-opener. Especially when you look at how happy each country is collectively. The goal of humanity is to strive for happiness, and while people become happy in their own unique ways, there are ways to measure the overall happiness of an area. Since 2012, the United Nations has had their World Happiness Report, which measures the happiness of all the countries in the world who participate. This is quite intriguing to many, and you wonder how they measure their happiness. What countries are the happiest? Who are the least? Let's find out.

How is the World Happiness Report Is Measured

The World Happiness Report uses various methods to measure the happiness of a country. A few ways they can measure include:

  • Access to healthcare. Countries where your health conditions, whether they are physical or mental, are left untreated are going to reduce the amount of happiness in a country. Countries that have easy health care access will lead to a higher quality of life and thus better happiness.
  • Income levels. Money can buy happiness, to a degree. Those who make $75K are seen as the happiest, while the happiness does not increase if you make more.
  • The well-being of the people in the country. Well-being is a bit subjective, but its basic definition is that those who have generally feel satisfied have more positive experiences than negative experiences. Their social needs are fulfilled and are generally positive.
  • Political conflicts. Politics divide people, and a country that is going through political turmoil can affect the populations' This applies to economically powerful countries, that may not experience war first hand, but are the subject of so many political controversies that if affects the people. War-torn countries that are going through crises are going to rank low in happiness.
  • How life works in that countries. Some countries are well-off, but societal expectations and how the family system functions can affect happiness. Countries that pressure people to succeed at all cost, such as Japan, may end up being unhappy despite how advanced they are.
  • Perhaps the best way to figure out if the country is happy or not is to ask the people. Surveying its citizens gives you a good idea of how happy they are. Sometimes, the country may be wealthy, but its people are not so happy.

Of course, happiness is a vague concept, and many people have their own definition of happiness.

The Happiest Country In The World

So what country is the happiest? The answer may surprise you. The country does not make much of a name for itself in world politics but instead strives for the improvement of its people. That country is Finland. Finland is one of those countries that you may have heard about, but you may not have any idea what goes on there. Why is it the happiest country in the world? There are a few reasons.

One reason is it's supportive public health system. Finland pays high taxes, and for many, that may seem off-putting. However, all those taxes go towards improving the quality of life, and not towards other interests. Finland has free education, healthcare, and other public services that are there for all people.

In fact, the top countries are Nordic countries such as Finland, and they all share the same theme of putting all their people first.

What About The US?

The United States of America may be the land of the free, but it's not the land of the happiest. The happiness of the US is ranked 18 in 2018, which is a decrease from 2017 when it was 14. The US is a wealthy country with opportunity, but there are many reasons why it doesn't reach the top. These include:

  • The changing political climate. With so many people becoming more politically divided this can affect the happiness of many.
  • Poor health care. For many, access to healthcare is difficult, and this can lead to untreated physical and mental illnesses. This leads to unhappiness. Those who aren't insured may avoid health care, so they don't have to pay money. Even if you do have insurance, you may still fear going to a doctor due to uncovered expenses.
  • Poor education in many places. The public school system of the US is mixed, and its college system is too, with many wanting to avoid it because of the cost.
  • A varied culture. The US is a big country, and with 50 states, they are almost like little countries. Some states will be happier than others due to their wealth or policies.
  • Substance abuse. The US has a drug problem, and the war on drugs has lead to untreated addictions and many incarcerated addicts (rather than treatment).
  • Unrealistic expectations. The US is presented as a land of opportunity, where everyone can be whatever they want to be. However, reality soon hits, and people realize that this isn't true. Many people feel disappointed and rush to meet their long-term goals and avoid being content with what they have in the present.

These are just a few problems the US is facing. However, they are not the only one. The US's old rival, the UK, is 19 in the happiness ranking.

Why Is Japan So Unhappy?

One interesting observation of the happiness report is about how unhappy Japan is. They rank 54, and if you don't live in Japan, this seems like a mystery. Japanese people tend to live longer lives, and they are a technologically advanced society, so what gives? There are many reasons. First, it's how society works there. Education is important, and maybe a little too important. Students are pressured to do their best, and parents are strict with their expectations. This can lead to suicide, or feeling inadequate despite the person doing the best they can. In fact, this is shared with other Asian countries such as China and South Korea.

The Least Happy Countries

You probably won't be surprised at what countries are the unhappiest. Third-world, poverty-stricken countries, typically in Africa, are the least happy in the world. Many find contentment in having little possessions, but most people who consider themselves "poor" have a roof over their head, running water, Internet, and most of their necessitates. They may not be better off than most, but compared to third-world countries, they most certainly are in a better position. The suffering that goes on in these countries is unfathomable, and many do not like to talk about it. The unhappiest country in the entire world is Burundi, a country in Africa. It's been going through a long violent political crisis and that, combined with the factors listed above, has led to it being the unhappiest country to live in.

To Summarize

When you look at the happiness report, there are some surprises, along with some no-brainers. Obviously, a country that is poverty-stricken is going to be unhappy, along with a country that is going through a serious political crisis. Just because a country is a world power does not mean the people are happy. In fact, them being a world power can lead to a reduction in happiness. Tax money is spent on the military and on the wealthy instead of going to the people. There may be a lack of access to health care, and the wage gap becomes quite noticeable.

It seems like the best countries are those that are wealthy and put their money towards their people first. Having access to the best public services possible seems to be key. Of course, this is not how the US, and many other countries, operate, and we should not expect this to change for a long time. No matter how you feel about it, the fact is that while America may be the land of opportunity, it is not the land of happiness.

Seek Help!

If you want to improve the happiness of your country, the first person who you need to make happy is yourself. If you're not happy, you're not going to be able to spread happiness very well. If you have issues that are preventing you from being happy, there is no shame in talking to a counselor to help you solve your problems. A counselor can help you reach your goal of happiness, be it accomplishing life goals or just learning to be content with what you have. By being happy, you just made the world a little happier.

The World Happiness Report gives an interesting glimpse into other countries. While it may not be the perfect look into the overall happiness, it's enough to make you think. Take a look at your own country. What makes you happy about it? What makes you unhappy? Don't think about the wealth of the country, but also the societal expectations.

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