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20 March is the International Day of Happiness. Every year, the world’s nations are measured and ranked by criteria that make for happy citizens. As in previous years, the Nordic countries are on top of this year’s World Happiness Index.

Published: 20 March 2018

In 2012, the member states of the United Nations General Assembly unanimously decided to make 20 March the International Day of Happiness.
 
The day highlights happiness and well-being as a universal goal for all humans, and the importance of taking this into account as the member states lay their national plans. 

Coinciding with the International Day of Happiness, an annual report concerning the level of happiness among the citizens in all of the world’s countries. In the World Happiness Report 2018, all the Nordic countries are among the top 10 on the list, with Finland, Norway and Denmark ranking highest.

From GDP and health to generosity

Most people would agree that happiness is a good thing. But how can such an impalpable phenomenon be defined and measured? The general secretary of the UN association of Norway, Anne Cathrine de Silva, explains: 

“The six most important variables regarding level of happiness is gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, social network, health expectations, social liberty, generosity and absence of corruption. These factors are all weighted equally when the amount of happiness is being considered.”

Rauland

Rauland.
Photo: CH - Visitnorway.com

The ranking is based on polls made in the 156 nations featured in the report, where approximately 3000 people have appraised their lives on a scale from 0 to 10 – 0 being the respondent’s worst possible life and 10 the best. 
 
Importantly, the World Happiness Report provides a foundation for mapping, monitoring and improving the living conditions on a global basis.  
 
“The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are established to contribute to the eradication of poverty, reduce inequality and protect our planet – three important aspects of comfort and well-being, which obviously are essential to happiness”, da Silva says.

Marginal differences at the top

In addition to the Nordics, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia and the Netherlands are all ranked among the top ten countries in the World Happiness Report. What they have in common is a high level of social stability, safety and freedom. 

“All the top ranked countries have high levels of the six crucial variables in determining the degree of happiness – income, life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. Among the top ranked countries, the differences are marginal enough that some internal changes in the ranking from year to year are to be expected”, Anne Cathrine de Silva says to Visit Norway.

Geiranger

Geiranger.
Photo: CH - Visitnorway.com

This year, there was a change at the very top of the index. Finland has been named the world’s happiest country in 2018, thus relegating Norway to the second place on the list. 

“The top ten countries have been the same for the last couple of years, with some internal adjustments up or down. Four different countries have come out on top the last four years – Denmark, Switzerland, Norway and now Finland." 

Among its neighboring countries, Finland has traditionally been regarded as a somewhat melancholic nation, being the home of composer Sibelius’ longing music, frozen lakes and a temperament often portrayed as bleak and taciturn in popular culture. This myth is ripe for busting, according to da Silva.

“It’s nice to have a image of Finland that differs from the traditional one. Finland comes out on top in many different international rankings, and they have every reason to be proud of a stable society with a great educational system.”

No blueprint for happiness

In a recent article, the Indian newspaper The Financial Express goes a long way to explain the continually high Norwegian and Nordic ranking on the happiness index through one single factor – the high tax level.

This theory is supported by professors Jeffrey Sachs, co-editor of this year’s happiness report, and Benjamin Radcliff, who both stress the community’s role in a nation’s sense of happiness. The latter has stated that “higher levels of taxation suggest higher levels of satisfaction with life”

Geiranger

Geiranger.
Photo: CH - Visitnorway.com

Anne Cathrine da Silva points out that the equation may be more complex than that.  
 
“The happiness index doesn’t account for tax levels. Some of the variables being measured are related to welfare benefits, while others are non-monetary. So there’s probably no such blueprint for happiness.”   
 
The general secretary does, however, provide a simple, but sufficient advice on how to properly celebrate the International Day of Happiness: 

“Do something to make the people around you happy.”

The World Happiness Report 2018

The world’s ten happiest countries, according to the World Happiness Report 2018

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

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