World Happiness Report 2016 Update Ranks Happiest Countries

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ROME, March 16 — The World Happiness Report 2016 Update, which ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels, was released today in Rome in advance of UN World Happiness Day, March 20th. The widespread interest in the World Happiness Reports, of which this is the fourth, reflects growing global interest in using happiness and subjective well-being as primary indicators of the quality of human development. Because of this growing interest, many governments, communities and organizations are using happiness data, and the results of subjective well-being research, to enable policies that support better lives.

The 2016 Update was launched at the Bank of Italy during a three-day series of conferences on happiness and subjective well-being. A companion volume, the Word Happiness Report 2016 Special Rome Edition, was also released at the same time.

“Measuring self-reported happiness and achieving well-being should be on every nation’s agenda as they begin to pursue the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. “Indeed the Goals themselves embody the very idea that human well-being should be nurtured through a holistic approach that combines economic, social and environmental objectives. Rather than taking a narrow approach focused solely on economic growth, we should promote societies that are prosperous, just, and environmentally sustainable.”

This year, for the first time, the World Happiness Report gives a special role to the measurement and consequences of inequality in the distribution of well-being among countries and regions. In previous reports the editors have argued that happiness provides a better indicator of human welfare than do income, poverty, education, health and good government measured separately. In a parallel way, they now argue that the inequality of well-being provides a broader measure of inequality. They find that people are happier living in societies where there is less inequality of happiness. They also find that happiness inequality has increased significantly (comparing 2012-2015 to 2005-2011) in most countries, in almost all global regions, and for the population of the world as a whole.

The report, produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), is once again edited by Professor John F. Helliwell of the University of British Columbia and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research; Professor Richard Layard, director of the Well-Being Programme at LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance; and Professor Sachs, director of the Earth Institute and SDSN.

The Update finds the top 10 countries to be the same as in the 2015 report, although their ordering has changed once again, with Denmark regaining the top spot, followed closely by Switzerland, Iceland and Norway. The top 10 are rounded out, in order, by Finland, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden.The US ranked 13th, two spots higher than last year despite having a lower score.

Fig. 2.2 Abridged

“The rankings show both consistency and change,” said Helliwell. “The consistency at the top reflects mainly that life evaluations are based on life circumstances that usually evolve slowly, and that are all at high levels in the top countries. The year-to-year changes are also moderated by the averaging of data from three years of surveys in order to provide large sample sizes. However, when there have been long-lasting changes in the quality of life, they have led to large changes in life evaluation levels and rankings, as shown by the many countries with large gains or losses from 2005-2007 to 2013-2015.”

As previous reports have done, The World Happiness Report 2016 Update looks at trends in the data recording how highly people evaluate their lives on a scale running from 0 to 10. The rankings, which are based on surveys in 156 countries covering the three years 2013-2015, reveal an average score of 5.1 (out of 10). Seven key variables explain three-quarters of the variation in annual national average scores over time and among countries: real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity (Table 2.1).

Chapter 2 of the Update, by Helliwell, Haifang Huang and Shun Wang, presents the latest data and analysis of happiness around the world. This is followed by Layard’s Chapter 3 on Promoting Secular Ethics and by Sachs’ Chapter 4 on Happiness and Sustainable Development.

he companion volume of papers, prepared especially for the Rome conference, and edited by Anthony Annett, Leonardo Becchetti and Sachs, contains the following chapters:

  • Inside the Life Satisfaction Blackbox (Leonardo Becchetti, Luisa Corrado, and Paola Sama)
  • Human Flourishing, the Common Good, and Catholic Social Teaching (Anthony Annett)
  • The Challenges of Public Happiness: an Historical-Methodological Reconstruction (Luigino Bruni and Stefano Zemagni)
  • The Geography of Parenthood and Well-Being: Do Children Make Us Happy, Where, and Why? (Luca Stanca)
  • Multidimensional Well-Being in Contemporary Europe: an Analysis of the Use of a Self-Organizing Map Applied to SHARE Data (Mario Lucchini, Luca Crivelli and Sara della Bella)