The World Happiness Report ranks the happiest countries, with Denmark ranking #1, and reveals six key factors supporting happiness

Economic and social progress of a nation may well be measured by its level of happiness. The second World Happiness Report, published by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), strengthens the case that well-being is a critical component of economic and social development.

The landmark Report has been authored by leading experts in economics, psychology, survey analysis, and national statistics. It describes how measurements of well-being can be used effectively to assess the progress of nations. “This year’s report provides country-level happiness rankings and explains changes in national and regional happiness,” said Report editor John Helliwell.  “The report reveals important trends and finds six key factors that explain much about national happiness.” he said.

The first World Happiness Report last year drew international attention as a landmark first survey of the state of global happiness. This year the new report delves in more detail into the analysis of global happiness data, examining trends over time and breaking down each country’s score into its component parts. The detailed analysis makes for a document that  citizens and policy makers can use to understand their country’s ranking, measures of well-being,  and provide guidance for policy makers on how to effectively incorporate well-being into decision making.

“There is now a rising worldwide demand that policy be more closely aligned with what really matters to people as they themselves characterize their well-being,” said Professor Jeffery Sachs. “More and more world leaders are talking about the importance of well-being as a guide for their nations and the world. The World Happiness Report 2013 offers rich evidence that the systematic measurement and analysis of happiness can teach us a lot about ways to improve the world’s well-being and sustainable development.”

The 2013 report identifies the countries with the highest levels of happiness. The top six countries are:

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Copenhagen Happiness

1. Denmark
2. Norway
3. Switzerland
4. Netherlands
5. Sweden
6. Canada

The 2013 report reveals six key variables explaining three-quarters of the variation in annual national average scores over time and among countries:

1. real GDP per capita,

2. healthy life expectancy,

3. having someone to count on,

4. perceived freedom to make life choices,

5. freedom from corruption,

6. and generosity (Table 2.1 of the Report).

Over the past 5 years there have been some significant changes in happiness in countries, with some countries rising and others falling in the rating. There is some evidence of global convergence of happiness levels, with happiness gains more common in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, and losses more common among the industrial countries. For the 130 countries with available data, happiness (as measured by people’s own evaluations of their lives) significantly improved in 60 countries and worsened in 41 (Figure 2.5 of the Report).

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Oslo

So what affects happiness? Some studies show mental health to be the single most important determinant of whether a person is happy or not. Yet, even in rich countries, less than a third of mentally ill people are in treatment. For policy makers it seems that the provision of good, widely available, cost-effective treatments for depression, anxiety disorders and psychosis, would go a long way in increasing the happiness ranking of a nation.

The Report also demonstrates the major beneficial side-effects of happiness. Happy people live longer, are more productive, earn more, and are also better citizens. The Report suggests, therefore, that well-being should be developed both for its own sake and for its side-effects.

Professor John Helliwell will present key findings from the Report in his Keynote Address at CIFAR’s Symposium on Building Better Lives & Communities in Toronto on September 19, 2013. For more information, visit http://www.cifar.ca/betterlives.

The World Happiness Report can be found at http://issuu.com/earthinstitute/docs/worldhappinessreport2013_online