The World Happiness Report revealing the world’s happiest countries shows Nordic countries topped the index, with Finland leading for the fourth consecutive year. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP)

The World Happiness Report revealing the world’s happiest countries shows Nordic countries topped the index, with Finland leading for the fourth consecutive year. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP)

Happiness Report: World shows resilience in face of COVID-19

Annual U.N. report ranks 149 countries based on GDP per person, life expectancy and citizen opinion

The coronavirus brought a year of fear and anxiety, loneliness and lockdown, and illness and death, but an annual report on happiness around the world released Friday suggests the pandemic has not crushed people’s spirits.

The editors of the 2021 World Happiness Report found that while emotions changed as the pandemic set in, longer-term satisfaction with life was less affected.

“What we have found is that when people take the long view, they’ve shown a lot of resilience in this past year,” Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, one of the report’s co-author, said from New York.

The annual report, produced by the U.N Sustainable Development Solutions Network, ranks 149 countries based on gross domestic product per person, healthy life expectancy and the opinions of residents. Surveys ask respondents to indicate on a 1-10 scale 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.

Due to the pandemic, the surveys were done in slightly fewer than 100 countries for this year’s World Happiness Report, the ninth one compiled since the project started. Index rankings for the other nations was based on estimates from past data.

The results from both methods had European countries occupying nine of the top 10 spots on the list of the word’s happiest places, with New Zealand rounding out the group. The top 10 countries are Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Austria.

It was the fourth consecutive year that Finland came out on top. The United States, which was at No. 13 five years ago, slipped from 18th to 19th place. On a shortened list ranking only those countries surveyed, the U.S. placed 14th.

“We find year after year that life satisfaction is reported to be happiest in the social democracies of northern Europe,” Sachs said. “People feel secure in those countries, so trust is high. The government is seen to be credible and honest, and trust in each other is high.”

Finland’s comparative success in curbing COVID-19 may have contributed to the enduring trust the country’s people have in their government. The country took rapid and extensive measures to stop the spread of the virus and has one of Europe’s lowest COVID-19 mortality rates.

“In Finland as well, of course, people have been suffering,” Anu Partanen, author of “The Nordic Theory of Everything” said on Friday in Helsinki. “But again in Finland and the Nordic countries, people are really lucky because society still supports a system buffering these sorts of shocks.”

Overall, the index showed little change in happiness levels compared to last years’ report, which was based on information from before the pandemic.

“We asked two kinds of questions. One is about the life in general, life evaluation, we call it. How is your life going? The other is about mood, emotions, stress, anxiety. What we have found is that when people take the the long view, they’ve shown a lot of resilience in this past year,” Sachs said. “Of course, we’re still in the middle of a deep crisis. But the responses about long-term life evaluation did not change decisively, though the disruption in our lives was so profound.”

Issues that affect the well-being of people living in the United States include racial tensions and growing income inequality between the richest and poorest residents, happiness experts say.

“As for why the U.S. ranks much lower than other similarly or even less wealthy countries, the answer is straightforward,” said Carol Graham, an expert at The Brookings Institution who was not involved in the report. “The U.S. has larger gaps in happiness rankings between the rich and the poor than do most other wealthy countries.”

Report co-author Sonja Lyubormirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, noted that American culture prizes signs of wealth such as big houses and multiple cars more so than other countries, “and material things don’t make us as happy.”

Conversely, people’s perception that their country was handling the pandemic well contributed to an overall rise in well-being, Columbia’s Sachs said. Several Asian countries fared better than they had in last years’ rankings; China moved to 84th place from 94th last year.

“This has been a difficult period. People are looking past it when they look for the long term. But there are also many people that are suffering in the short run,” he said.

Finnish philosopher Esa Saarinen, who was not involved in the report, thinks the Finnish character itself might help explain why the country keeps leading the index.

“I think Finns are pretty kind of content on some level at being just what we are,” he said. “We don’t really have to be more.”

United Nations

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Burning will only occur if weather conditions are suitable and allow smoke to dissipate. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)
Pile burning of 50 wood debris in Burns Lake community forest

Smoke might be visible for Burns Lake and neighboring areas

Tourism update Meghan Olson. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)
Village of Burns Lake gets a new tourism coordinator

Meghan Olson, a Burns Lake local, replaces the former coordinator

COVID 19 cases in the province between Mar. 28 to Apr. 3. (BC CDC photo/Lakes District News)
No new COVID-19 cases in Burns Lake

Weekly COVID-19 cases decline in Northwest B.C.

Nee Tahi Buhn band
Nee Tahi Buhn Band chief and council removed

Interim council working towards a by-election

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversary of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

Richmond RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng said, in March, the force received a stand-out number of seven reports of incidents that appeared to have “racial undertones.” (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
‘Racially motivated’ incidents on the rise in B.C’s 4th largest city: police

Three incidents in Richmond are currently being invested as hate crimes, says RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng

Commercial trucks head south towards the Pacific Highway border crossing Wednesday (April 14, 2021). The union representing Canadian border officers wants its members to be included on the frontline priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Aaron Hinks photo)
CBSA officers’ union calls for vaccine priority in B.C.

Border officers at ports including, YVR and land crossings should ‘not be left behind’

A still from the video taken of a violent arrest on May 30, 2020 in downtown Kelowna. (File)
Kelowna Mountie charged with assault for caught-on-camera violent arrest

Const. Siggy Pietrzak was filmed punching a suspected impaired driver at least 10 times during an arrest

A screenshot from a Nuu-chah-nulth healing song and performance created in collaboration between Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso. (Screenshot from YouTube)
VIDEO: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation brothers produce COVID-19 healing song

Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso share dance and inspiration.

Most Read