World Happiness Report 2021

The World Happiness Report 2021 focuses on the effects of COVID-19 and how people all over the world have fared. Our aim was two-fold, first to focus on the effects of COVID-19 on the structure and quality of people’s lives, and second to describe and evaluate how governments all over the world have dealt with the pandemic. In particular, we try to explain why some countries have done so much better than others.

WHR 2021


This is the ninth World Happiness Report. We use this Foreword to offer our thanks to all those who have made the Report possible over the past nine years and to thank our team of editors and partners as we prepare for our decennial report in 2022.

The first eight reports were produced by the founding trio of co-editors assembled in Thimphu in July 2011 pursuant to the Bhutanese Resolution passed by the General Assembly in June 2011 that invited national governments to “give more importance to happiness and well-being in determining how to achieve and measure social and economic development.” The Thimphu meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley and Jeffrey D. Sachs, was called to plan for a United Nations High-Level Meeting on ‘Well-Being and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm’ held at the UN on April 2, 2012. The first World Happiness Report was prepared in support of that meeting and reviewing evidence from the emerging science of happiness.

The preparation of the first World Happiness Report was based in the Earth Institute at Columbia University, with the Centre for Economic Performance’s research support at the LSE and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, through their grants supporting research at the Vancouver School of Economics at UBC. The central base for the reports has since 2013 been the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and The Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, directed by Jeffrey D. Sachs. Although the editors and authors are volunteers, there are administrative, and research support costs covered most recently through a series of grants from The Ernesto Illy Foundation, illycaffè, Davines Group, The Blue Chip Foundation, The William, Jeff, and Jennifer Gross Family Foundation, The Happier Way Foundation, Indeed, and Unilever’s largest ice cream brand Wall’s.

As noted within the report, this year has been one like no other. The Gallup World Poll team has faced significant challenges in collecting responses this year due to COVID-19, and we much appreciate their efforts to provide timely data for this Report. We were also grateful for the World Risk Poll data provided by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation as part of their risk supplement to the Gallup World Poll in 2019. We also greatly appreciate the life satisfaction data collected during 2020 as part of the Covid Data Hub run in 2020 by Imperial College London and the YouGov team. These data partnerships are all much appreciated.

Although the World Happiness Reports are based on a wide variety of data, the most important source has always been the Gallup World Poll, which is unique in the range and comparability of its global series of annual surveys.

The life evaluations from the Gallup World Poll provide the basis for the annual happiness rankings that have always sparked widespread interest. Readers may be drawn in by wanting to know how their nation is faring but soon become curious about the secrets of life in the happiest countries. The Gallup team has always been extraordinarily helpful and efficient in getting each year’s data available in time for our annual launches on International Day of Happiness, March 20th. Right from the outset, we received very favourable terms from Gallup and the very best of treatment. Gallup researchers have also contributed to the content of several World Happiness Reports. The value of this partnership was recognized by two Betterment of the Human Conditions Awards from the International Society for Quality of Life Studies. The first was in 2014 for the World Happiness Report, and the second, in 2017, went to the Gallup Organization for the Gallup World Poll.

Since last year, Gallup has been a full data partner in recognition of the Gallup World Poll’s importance to the contents and reach of the World Happiness Report. We are proud to embody in this more formal way a history of co-operation stretching back beyond the first World Happiness Report to the start of the Gallup World Poll itself. COVID-19 has posed unique problems for data collection, and the team at Gallup has been extremely helpful in building the largest possible sample of data in time for inclusion in this report. They have gone the extra mile, and we thank them for it.

We have had a remarkable range of expert contributing authors over the years and are deeply grateful for their willingness to share their knowledge with our readers. Their expertise assures the quality of the reports, and their generosity is what makes it possible. Thank you.

Our editorial team has evolved over the years. In 2017, we added Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Haifang Huang, and Shun Wang as Associate Editors, joined in 2019 by Lara Aknin. In 2020, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve became a co-editor, and the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre thereby became a fourth research pole for the Report. In 2021, Haifang Huang stepped down as an Associate Editor, following four years of much-appreciated service. He has kindly agreed to continue as co-author of Chapter 2, where his contributions have been crucial since 2015.

Sharon Paculor has continued her excellent work as the Production Editor. For many years, Kyu Lee of the Earth Institute handled media management with great skill, and we are very grateful for all he does to make the reports widely accessible. Ryan Swaney has been our web designer since 2013, and Stislow Design has done our graphic design work over the same period.

The team at the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, Sybil Fares, Juliana Bartels, Meredith Harris, and Savannah Pearson, and Jesse Thorson, have provided an essential addition to our editorial and proof-reading capacities. All have worked on very tight timetables with great care and friendly courtesy.

Our data partner is Gallup, and institutional sponsors include the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, the Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE, the Vancouver School of Economics at UBC, and the Wellbeing Research Centre at Oxford.

Whether in terms of research, data, or grants, we are enormously grateful for all of these contributions.

John Helliwell, Richard Layard, Jeffrey D. Sachs, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Lara Aknin, Shun Wang; and Sharon Paculor, Production Editor

Appendices & Data


John Helliwell, Richard Layard, Jeffrey D. Sachs, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Lara Aknin, Shun Wang; and Sharon Paculor, Production Editor


Helliwell, John F., Richard Layard, Jeffrey Sachs, and Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, eds. 2021. World Happiness Report 2021. New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.