The Declaration of Independence triumphantly declares the “pursuit of happiness” as an inalienable right. But what does happiness mean to a larger community, beyond an individual’s own feeling of joy, satisfaction, or contentment?
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 50 happiest countries in the world, 24/7 Tempo reviewed The World Happiness Report, a publication of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, for 2022. The report, which uses Gallup World Poll data, evaluated some 146 countries. (Data for Luxembourg, Kuwait, and Guatemala is for 2019.) The report is based on six variables: GDP 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; each country’s 2021 corruption perception index came from Transparency International.
The happiest countries in the world tend to share similar qualities. They’re 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. (They are also usually the world’s safest countries.)
But these correlations don’t always apply. Saudi Arabia ranks very low on the democracy Index, but it’s 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 doesn’t 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.
But it’s 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. (These are the richest countries in the world.)
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