Think about how you felt yesterday. Did you smile or laugh a lot? Did you learn or do something interesting? Were you angry? Sad?
Every year, the global polling giant Gallup asks hundreds of thousands of people in more than 140 countries these and other questions as part of its annual survey on emotional well-being.
It also asks people to rate where they stand on an imaginary a ladder — "with the lowest rung representing the worst possible life and the highest rung representing the best possible life" — and where they expect to stand in five years. Based on their reponses, Gallup classifies them as "thriving, struggling, or suffering.”
The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) then takes this survey data and combines it with analysis of Twitter content and other surveys, along with social and economic data, to create the annual World Happiness Report.
Now in its 10th year, the latest report published on March 18 is a “bright spot” in a “troubled time of war and pandemic,” the authors write. As rates of poverty and hunger surged throughout the pandemic, mutual aid networks emerged to fill gaps in government support. In fact, rates of helping strangers, volunteering, and donating to causes and individuals increased by about 25% over the past two years, according to the report.
“This surge of benevolence, which was especially great for the helping of strangers, provides powerful evidence that people respond to help others in need, creating in the process more happiness for the beneficiaries, good examples for others to follow, and better lives for themselves,” said John Helliwell, one of the main authors of the report, in a press release.
The report notes that more countries are beginning to factor human well-being and happiness into their approach to governance. New Zealand, for example, now considers human well-being a more important factor than growth domestic product when considering new policies.
Some countries do a much better job than others at centering the public good. This is often reflected in the World Happiness Report, the authors of which note that people in countries that rank higher in the analysis tend to have higher levels of trust in their governments.
“World leaders should take heed,” renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs, a lead author of the report, said in a statement. “Politics should be directed as the great sages long ago insisted: to the well-being of the people, not the power of the rulers."
The highest ranked countries all have robust welfare programs and minimal levels of inequality relative to the global population. The lowest ranked countries, meanwhile, have high levels of extreme poverty.
Finland, the highest ranked country for the fifth year in a row, has one of the strongest social safety nets in the world, an exceptional education system, and low childhood poverty, according to the Sustainable Governance Indicators report by the Bertelsmann Foundation. The country also prioritizes work-life balance, allowing people to shape more of their time according to their own passions and curiosities.
Afghanistan, the lowest ranked country, has been ravaged by war for more than two decades and suffers from extraordinary levels of violence. In August 2021, when the Taliban solidified rule over Afghanistan for the first time since 2001, women and other vulnerable communities faced increased risk.
It’s important to note that countries with high levels of reported happiness have benefited from historical and ongoing colonialism (countries from the so-called Global North), while those with the lowest scores suffered from it (countries from the so-called Global South). In other words, a historical understanding of happiness levels is essential.
With that in mind, here are the 10 happiest and unhappiest countries in the world, according to the World Happiness Report.
The 10 Happiest Countries in the World
10. New Zealand
The 10 Unhappiest Countries in the World
140. Sierra Leone
You can read the full World Happiness 2022 Report here.