Norway is – officially – the happiest kingdom of them all. New Zealand is once again ranked eighth, a slightly happier place than Australia, which is ninth in the annual World Happiness Report.
The US is 14th, down from No 13 last year; over the years Americans have steadily been rating themselves less happy. The UK is ranked 19, according to the UN-funded study released to mark International Happiness Day.
“It’s the human things that matter. If riches make it harder to have frequent and trustworthy relationships between people, is it worth it?” asked John Helliwell, lead author of the report and an economist at the University of British Columbia in Canada (ranked No 7).
“The material can stand in the way of the human.”
Studying happiness may seem frivolous, but serious academics have long been calling for more testing about people’s emotional well-being, especially in the US. In 2013 the US National Academy of Sciences issued a report recommending that federal statistics and surveys, which normally deal with income, spending, health and housing, include a few extra questions on happiness because it would lead to better policy that affects people’s lives.
Norway moved from No 4 to the top spot in the rankings, which combine economic, health and polling data compiled by economists that are averaged over three years from 2014-16.
It edged past previous champ Denmark, which fell to second. Iceland, Switzerland and Finland round out the top 5.
“Good for them. I don’t think Denmark has a monopoly on happiness,” said Meik Wiking, ceo of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, which wasn’t part of the global scientific study.
“What works in the Nordic countries is a sense of community and understanding in the common good,” Wiking said.
Still, you have to have some money to be happy, which is why most of the bottom countries are in desperate poverty. But at a certain point extra money doesn’t buy extra happiness, Helliwell and others said.
Central African Republic fell to last on the happiness list, joined at the bottom by Burundi, Tanzania, Syria and Rwanda.
The report ranks 155 countries. The economists have been ranking countries since 2012, but the data used goes back farther so the economists can judge trends.
The rankings are based on gross domestic product per person, healthy life expectancy with four factors from global surveys. In those surveys, people give scores from 1 to 10 on how much social support they feel they have if something goes wrong, their freedom to make their own life choices, their sense of how corrupt their society is and how generous they are.
While most countries were either getting happier or at least treading water, America’s happiness score dropped 5 per cent over the past decade. Venezuela and the Central African Republic slipped the most over the past decade. Nicaragua and Latvia increased the most.
Study co-author and economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University said the sense of community, so strong in Norway, is deteriorating in the US.
“We’re becoming more and more mean-spirited. And our government is becoming more and more corrupt. And inequality is rising,” Sachs said. “It’s a long-term trend and conditions are getting worse.”
University of Maryland’s Carol Graham said the report mimics what she sees in American rural areas. Her research shows poor whites have a deeper lack of hope, which she connects to rises in addictions to painkillers and suicide among that group.
“There is deep misery in the heartland,” wrote Graham, author of the book The Pursuit of Happiness.
Happiness — and doing what you love — is more important than politicians think, said Helliwell. He rated his personal happiness a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10.
International Happiness Day, celebrated on March 20, began in 2013 after the first UN conference on happiness in the previous year.