Norway tops the global happiness rankings for 2017
Norway has jumped from 4th place in 2016 to 1st place this year, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland in a tightly packed bunch. All of the top four countries rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance. Their averages are so close that small changes can re-order the rankings from year to year. Norway moves to the top of the ranking despite weaker oil prices. It is sometimes said that Norway achieves and maintains its high happiness not because of its oil wealth, but in spite of it. By choosing to produce its oil slowly, and investing the proceeds for the future rather than spending them in the present, Norway has insulated itself from the boom and bust cycle of many other resource-rich economies. To do this successfully requires high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance, all factors that help to keep Norway and other top countries where they are in the happiness rankings.
All of the other countries in the top ten also have high values in all six of the key variables used to explain happiness differences among countries and through time – income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust, with the latter measured by the absence of corruption in business and government. Here too there has been some shuffling of ranks among closely grouped countries, with this year’s rankings placing Finland in 5thplace, followed by the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia and Sweden tied for the 9th position, having the same 2014-2016 score to three decimals.
Happiness is both social and personal
This year’s report emphasizes the importance of the social foundations of happiness (see Chapter 2). This can be seen by comparing the life experiences between the top and bottom ten countries in this year’s happiness rankings. There is a four-point happiness gap between the two groups of countries, of which three-quarters is explained by the six variables, half due to differences in having someone to count on, generosity, a sense of freedom, and freedom from corruption. The other half of the explained difference is attributed to GDP per capita and healthy life expectancy, both of which, as the report explains, also depend importantly on the social context.
However 80% of the variance of happiness across the world occurs within countries. In richer countries the within-country differences are not mainly explained by income inequality, but by differences in mental health, physical health and personal relationships: the biggest single source of misery is mental illness (see Chapter 5). Income differences matter more in poorer countries, but even their mental illness is a major source of misery.
Work is also a major factor affecting happiness (see Chapter 6). Unemployment causes a major fall in happiness, and even for those in work the quality of work can cause major variations in happiness.
People in China are no happier than 25 years ago
Our China chapter is led by Richard A. Easterlin, who pioneered the economics of happiness more than 40 years ago. It contrasts the sharply growing per capita income in China over the past 25 years with life evaluations that fell steadily from 1990 till about 2005, recovering since then to about the 1990 levels. They attribute the dropping happiness in the first part of the period to rising unemployment and fraying social safety nets, with recoveries since in both (see Chapter 3).
Much of Africa is struggling
The Africa chapter, led by Valerie Møller, tells a much more diverse story, as fits the African reality with its great number and vast range of experiences. But these are often marked by delayed and disappointed hopes for happier lives (see Chapter 4).
Happiness has fallen in America
The USA is a story of reduced happiness. In 2007 the USA ranked 3rd among the OECD countries; in 2016 it came 19th. The reasons are declining social support and increased corruption (see Chapter 7) and it is these same factors that explain why the Nordic countries do so much better.
Appendices & Data
John Helliwell, Richard Layard, Jeffrey Sachs, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Haifang Huang and Shun Wang
This publication may be reproduced using the following reference: Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2017). World Happiness Report 2017, New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
World Happiness Report management by Sharon Paculor. Copy editing by Mariam Gulaid, Saloni Jain and Louise Doucette. Design by John Stislow and Stephanie Stislow.