Special Report

Most Miserable Countries in the World

What makes the people of a country unhappy? Widespread exposure to warfare, famine, poverty, or plague are obvious answers, but those factors don’t apply universally. Common country-level measures of happiness, contentment, or satisfaction among populations include average lifespan from birth and levels of national economic activity. In addition, people who live in countries that embrace democracy and transparency tend to be “happier” than those who don’t, and countries that crack down on institutional corruption tend to govern happier people.

To determine the countries in which these positive factors are not significant – in other words, the 50 unhappiest 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 countries marked with an asterisk is for 2019.) The report is based on six variables: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, and corruption. (These are the most corrupt countries in the world.)

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.

Click here to see the unhappiest countries in the world

Gross domestic product per capita – not to be confused with per capita income – is a common measure of a country’s prosperity. Among 50 of the world’s unhappiest countries per the most recent annual World Happiness Report survey, the average per capita GNP was $6,311, compared to $43,228 among the 50 happiest countries. (These are the countries with the worst wealth inequality.) 

Life expectancy is a key factor, too. People living in the 50 unhappiest countries live to an average of 66.3 years, about 13 fewer years than people in the 50 happiest countries. In addition, people living in less democratic and more institutionally corrupt countries tend to be less happy. These correlations aren’t always reliable, however. Even before the recent Russian invasion, Ukraine had some of the world’s least content people while ranking relatively high in the Democracy Index, a popular measure of the state of democracy among countries.

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