First World Happiness Report

Laura Joszt

Northern Europe is the happiest, while sub-Saharan Africa lingers on the bottom. And while richer countries are happier, it's not the be-all, end-all. There are plenty of personal and external factors that affect happiness.

People living in the Scandinavian countries are some of the happiest people in the world, while the U.S. is proving the progress and being an economic superpower doesn’t mean bliss.

After decades of rising gross national product and economic and technological progress, Americans have reported little change in life satisfaction, according to the first World Happiness Report commissioned by the U.N.

According to the report, there has been an increase in demand for more attention to happiness as guiding criterion for government policies. And while richer countries tend to be happier, but social factors can be even more important.

Click on image to see happiness broken down by regions

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Northern Europe tends to be the happiest, while sub-Saharan Africa populates the bottom of the list. And the U.S., economic superpower that it is, just missed the top 10 to rank 11, while Canada ranked fifth.

To measure happiness, the report relied on data from a number of sources: the Gallup World Poll, the World Values Survey, the European Values Survey and the European Social Survey.

Top 20

Bottom 20

“Comparing the top four to the bottom four countries, average incomes are 40 times higher, healthy life expectancy is 28 years greater, people are much more likely to have someone to call on in times of trouble (95% vs. 48%), to have a sense of freedom (94% vs. 63%), and are less likely to perceive widespread corruption in business and government (33% vs. 85%),” according to the report.

The external factors that the report identified as being key determinants of happiness include: income; work; community and governance; and values and religion. And the personal factors were: mental health; physical health; family experience; education; and gender and age.

Physical health, according to the report, “

In general, a quarter of the world’s population ranked themselves in the mid-point range of happiness possibility. In the Northern Europe countries that make up the top four, residents rated their happiness at an average of 7.6 on a scale of zero to 10 (with 10 being the happiest). In sub-Saharan Africa, the average was 3.4.is probably the single most important factor that has improved human happiness in recent centuries.” It didn’t matter what level of development a country is. There are obviously still issues with major health gaps in poor countries and out-of-control costs in insurance-based systems.

“But happiness research confirms that people greatly value health care, and it is likely that growing health expenditures often through the public sector will give more satisfaction than equivalent increases in private consumption.”