Vitality

World Happiness Report 2016: Is It Any Surprise Scandinavia Continues To Dominate World's Happiest Countries?

Denmark
A young boy walks on stones at the Holbaek Fjord near the village Holbaek, Sjaelland, Denmark, during sunset on August 26, 2010. Getty Images

Think of a ladder, with your best possible life being a 10 and your worst possible life being a 0. Now, rate your current life against that scale. This simple assessment tool, known as the Cantril ladder, provided researchers with the necessary information for a global assessment of happiness. Based on nationally representative samples for the years 2013 through 2015, the World Happiness Report 2016 evaluates the state of contentment in the world today and ranks 156 countries accordingly.

No matter how high your individual score may be, the United States, as a whole, comes up unlucky number 13, the new report finds. The number one prize goes to Denmark, with Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden filling out the top ten positions in that order. According to the authors of the report, the top 10 jolliest countries are the same as last year, though their positions on the list have changed; presumably these most happy nations have all been playing a merry game of musical chairs. 

The Gallup World Poll, which tabulated each of the national scores, calculates the global average happiness score to be 5.1 on the scale. Around the planet, then, most of us are midway up our private ladders of success. A difference of four points on average life evaluation separates the 10 happiest countries from the 10 least happy nations. At the sad end of the standings, sub-Saharan Africa is the location for eight of the 10 least happy countries, while the remaining two fight, or endure, wars. Afghanistan occupies the fourth position from the bottom, Syria resides in second to last place, and Burundi is last of all.

Your Most Fulfilled Life

Life satisfaction follows a U-shape curve, one past happiness study suggests, where we reach a rock bottom of discontent somewhere around age 40, only to find our spirits rising again thereafter. Happiness, clearly, is a dynamic and multi-dimensional feeling. While both individual and compiled national scores are based entirely on answers to the ladder question, Gallup used six additional factors to explain the variations among countries: real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity.

None of these variables influence the total score reported for each country, they simply illuminate possible underlying reasons, which might influence individual feelings of happiness.

The authors, a group of independent experts, believe other variables, such as unemployment, also contribute to fulfillment, however comparable information is not yet available for each country and so could not be included in the report. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a global initiative for the United Nations, commissioned the report, fourth of its kind, for UN World Happiness Day celebrated on March 20th. Substantial input came from the University of British Columbia, the London School of Economics, and Columbia University.

Going forward the authors plan a deeper analysis of workplace happiness, while exploring the implications of immigration, refugees, and transient populations. The authors believe interest in their report “reflects growing global interest in using happiness and subjective well-being as primary indicators of the quality of human development.”

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