Definitions of happiness are vague. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines happy as “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.” Studies of happiness often define the condition much more broadly. Do people live in a happy country, live in a happy family or have jobs that make them happy?
Economists and social scientists tend to point to several factors that help define the level of “happiness” in large populations. A country’s life expectancy at birth is one popular measure because it suggests a population living a healthy, stress-free life. Economic activity is also a factor, as is a lack of institutional corruption and an array of individual freedoms.
To determine the happiest country in the world, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the 2022 World Happiness Report, a publication of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The report, which uses Gallup World Poll data, evaluated some 146 countries. (Data for Luxembourg, Kuwait and Guatemala was for 2019.) The report is based on six variables: gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity and corruption.
We added 2020 GDP per capita data, in current international dollars based on the purchasing power parity method, from the World Bank. Life expectancy at birth for 2019 (pre-pandemic) is also from the World Bank. Each country’s 2021 democracy index came from the Economist Intelligence Unit, and each country’s 2021 corruption perception index came from Transparency International.
The happiest countries in the world tend to share similar qualities. They are usually richer due to more economic activity generating more national wealth. Their people tend to live lives that are longer, healthier and less stressful. Happier countries also tend toward democratic institutions with higher levels of government transparency.
However, these correlations do not always apply. Saudi Arabia ranks very low on the democracy index, but it is the 25th happiest country, according to the World Happiness Report. The absolute monarchy also ranks 19th in GDP per capita, according to the World Bank. More economic output does not automatically push a country higher on the happiness list, either. For example, Singapore had the second-highest GDP per capita in 2020, but it ranks 27th for its happiness score.
Yet, it is undeniable that wealthier countries tend to have happier people. The average per capita gross domestic product for the top 50 happiest countries was $43,228, compared to $6,311 for the least happy countries, according to the most recent World Bank data.
The happiest country in the world is Finland. Here are the details:
- Happiness score: 7.821
- GDP per capita in 2020: $50,506 (17th highest of 139 countries)
- Life expectancy at birth in 2019: 81.8 years (21st highest of 141 countries)
- Democracy index: 9.27 (third highest of 143 countries)
- Corruption perception index in 2021: 88 (best of 143 countries)
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