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

The Regional District of Nanaimo plans to make its operations more efficient as it works on long-term goals around carbon-neutrality. (PQB News file photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo works to become carbon neutral by 2032

RDN committee of the whole members endorse plan developed by consultant

The Millstone River in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Regional district looks at value of Nanaimo’s natural assets

Report focused on the Millstone River could inform future decisions on corporate asset management

Protesters gather along the Pearson Bridge on Terminal Avenue in downtown Nanaimo last month as part of an event called Worth More Standing. (News Bulletin file photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: B.C. hasn’t managed forests properly

Protesters opposing logging in Fairy Creek speak for many British Columbians, say letter writers

Nanaimo singer Victoria Vaughn recently released an EP with local producer Austin Penner. (Photo courtesy Taylor Murray)
Nanaimo singer and recent VIU grad releases EP about becoming an adult

Victoria Vaughn’s ‘Growing Pains’ recorded with local producer Austin Penner

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has listed Harbour Air and Air Canada flights to and from Nanaimo, from April 3, 4 and 12, on its list of flights with COVID-19. (News Bulletin file)
COVID-19 cases reported for Air Canada, Harbour Air flights, says disease control centre

Nanaimo flights for April 3, 4 and 12 listed on BCCDC’s list of flights with COVID-19

Pat Kauwell, a semi-retired construction manager, lives in his fifth-wheel trailer on Maxey Road because that’s what he can afford on his pension, but a Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw prohibits using RVs as permanent dwellings, leaving Kauwell and others like him with few affordable housing options. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Housing crunch or not, it’s illegal to live in an RV in Nanaimo

Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw forcing pensioner to move RV he calls home off private farm land

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Nothing stopping provinces from offering AstraZeneca vaccine to all adults: Hajdu

Health Canada has licensed the AstraZeneca shot for use in people over the age of 18

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Noel Brown, Snuneymuxw First Nation carver, observes the house post he carved, which now is situated in front of the Kw’umut Lelum centre on Centre Street in Nanaimo. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
House post representative of work of Kw’umut Lelum in Nanaimo

Snuneymuxw First Nation artist Noel Brown’s carved red cedar house post unveiled Friday, April 16

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Most Read