It’s a Three-Peat, Finland Keeps Top Spot as Happiest Country in World

NEW YORK, March 20 –Since the first World Happiness Report in 2012, four different countries have held the top position: Denmark in 2012, 2013 and 2016, Switzerland in 2015, Norway in 2017, and now Finland in 2018, 2019 and 2020. With its continuing upward trend in average scores, Finland consolidated its hold on first place, and is now significantly ahead of Denmark in second place. The remaining countries in the top ten are Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, and Austria, followed by top-10 newcomer Luxembourg.

“The World Happiness Report has proven to be an indispensable tool for policymakers looking to better understand what makes people happy and thereby to promote the wellbeing of their citizenry,” said Jeffrey Sachs. “Time and again we see the reasons for wellbeing include good social support networks, social trust, honest governments, safe environments, and healthy lives.”

In addition to the country rankings, the World Happiness Report 2020 for the first time ranks cities around the world by their subjective well-being. It may come as no surprise, the happiest city in the world is Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Indeed, the Report shows that in general the happiness ranking of cities is almost identical to that of the countries in which they are located. The report then digs more deeply into how the social, urban and natural environments combine to affect our happiness. Walking in greenspaces makes people happy- but especially so if they are with a friend.

“A happy social environment, whether urban or rural, is one where people feel a sense of belonging, where they trust and enjoy each other and their shared institutions,” said John Helliwell. “There is also more resilience, because shared trust reduces the burden of hardships, and thereby lessens the inequality of well-being.”

Cities clearly play an important role in economic growth and human interaction. As populations continue to move from rural to urban areas further straining resources and infrastructure, understanding sources of happiness becomes that much more vital. Not only does the report take a careful look at how happiness compares between cities globally, it assesses how happy urban dwellers are compared to their counterparts in the same country.

“Generally, we find that the average happiness of city residents is more often than not higher than the average happiness of the general country population, especially in countries at the lower end of economic development,” said Jan-Emmanuel De Neve. “But this urban happiness advantage evaporates and sometimes turns negative for cities in high-income countries, suggesting that the search for happiness may well be more fruitful when looking to live in more rural areas.”

The World Happiness Report 2020, which ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be, according to their evaluations of their own lives, was launched today to coincide with World Happiness Day.

# The Top 20 happiest countries include:

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Switzerland
  4. Iceland
  5. Norway
  6. The Netherlands
  7. Sweden
  8. New Zealand
  9. Luxembourg
  10. Austria
  11. Canada
  12. Australia
  13. UK
  14. Israel
  15. Costa Rica
  16. Ireland
  17. Germany
  18. US
  19. Czech Republic
  20. Belgium

Four of the six factors used by the report to explain a country’s happiness are different aspects of the social environment. They include having someone to count on, having a sense of freedom to make key life decisions, generosity, and trust. The report looks at how inequality plays in a person’s happiness and how good social environments can help to mitigate the effects of inequality.

“Happiness inequality significantly reduces average life evaluations,” said Richard Layard, “This means that people are happier to live in societies without extreme disparity in the quality of life.”

Other factors within our natural environment play a significant factor in determining happiness. On the national level the report looks at pollution levels, climate and temperatures. In addition, using a more intimate study, 13,000 volunteers in London were asked about their emotional states which was coupled with environmental data. These data ranged from being close to waterways and greenspaces, air quality and noise levels, and weather conditions.

The World Happiness Report is a publication of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, powered by data from the Gallup World Poll, and supported by partners: Ernesto Illy Foundation; illycaffè; Davines Group; Blue Chip Foundation; The William, Jeff, and Jennifer Gross Family Foundation; and Unilever’s largest ice cream brand Wall’s.

The report is edited by Professor John F. Helliwell of the University of British Columbia; Professor Richard Layard, co-director of the Well-Being Programme at LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance; Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of SDSN and the Earth Institute’s Center on Sustainable Development; Professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Director of the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford.

# The World Happiness Report 2020 includes the following chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Environments for Happiness: An Overview.
    Helliwell, Layard, Sachs & De Neve
  • Chapter 2: Social Environments for World Happiness.
    Helliwell, Huang, Wang & Norton
    National rankings of recent life evaluations, and their changes from a 2008-2012 base period to 2017-2019. The sources of these levels and changes are investigated, with the six key factors being supplemented by an analysis of how well-being inequality is linked to lower average levels of happiness. Then the chapter turns to show the importance of social environments with special emphasis on trust and social connections and the ability of high trust to improve life evaluations for all, but especially those who are most at risk by lessening the well-being costs of discrimination, unemployment, illness, and low income.
  • Chapter 3: Cities and Happiness: A Global Ranking and Analysis.
    De Neve & Krekel
    Provides a ranking of happiness measures, including both life evaluations and measures of positive and negative affect for more than 180 global cities for which there are samples of sufficient size from the Gallup World Poll.
  • Chapter 4: Urban-Rural Happiness Differentials Across the World.
    Burger, Morrison, Hendriks & Hoogerbrugge
    Relative happiness of urban and rural life around the world, showing city dwellers to be generally happier than rural dwellers in most countries, with these advantages being less, and sometimes reversed, in a number of the richer countries.
  • Chapter 5: How Environmental Quality Affects Our Happiness
    Krekel & MacKerron
    Examines how different aspects of the natural environment influence subjective well-being. The first part of the chapter does this using natural environmental data for the OECD countries combined with happiness measures from the Gallup World Poll, while the second part uses data collected from on-line reports from a sample of Londoners, seeing how their emotions change with their activities and features of the local environment.
  • Chapter 6: Sustainable Development and Human Well-Being
    De Neve & Sachs
    Studies the empirical relationships between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and happiness measures from the Gallup World Poll, mainly the life evaluations that are the focus of earlier chapters.
  • Chapter 7: The Nordic Exceptionalism: What explains why the Nordic countries are constantly among the happiest in the world?
    Frank Martela, Bent Greve, Bo Rothstein, & Juho Saari
    Describes several features of life in the Nordic countries that help to explain why life evaluations in those countries are very high.

Press Inquiries: Kyu Lee, kyu3lee@columbia.edu