“Are you happy?” is a deceptively complex question to ask and answer.
It is generally accepted that having enough money to cover your needs and wants can help you live a relatively happy and comfortable life, and recent research shows that this relationship can also increase linearly as levels of income increase.
However, there is much more to it. Happiness levels depend not only on financial security, but also on broader perceptions of one’s social support, personal freedom, etc.
This series of maps pulls data from the World Happiness Report to uncover the average scores of 149 countries between 2018-2020, and which came out happiest or most unhappy. We also look at the most and least improved countries in each region.
How is happiness measured?
First, let’s take a look at the factors used to calculate levels of happiness around the world. Some clear indicators are health and wealth, two metrics that are steadily increasing around the world. The report takes this into account, weighting GDP per capita and life expectancy at birth in the scores.
The report also examines more intangible aspects, gathering survey responses around:
- Freedom to make life choices
- Perceptions of government / corporate corruption
- Positive or negative affects (Recent experience of emotions)
This year, the focus has naturally been on measuring the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on happiness levels, such as exacerbating mental health risks. In addition, these measures varied depending on the response of each country to the crisis.
Take a close look at regional happiness levels
Happiness in the world comes to an average score of 5.5, a marginal improvement from our previous coverage of this report in 2019. Let’s dive into the regional outlook for happiness levels.
Current mood: Happy (6.1)
Canada retains its place as the happiest country in North America, although its overall world ranking has declined over the years. In 2019, it was ranked ninth globally, dropping to 11th in the 2020 edition and 14th in this year’s report.
Haiti continues to fare badly as the most unhappy country in the region, with an average annual GDP growth of only 1.3% over 20 years. Its weak economy and political instability have been compounded by the pandemic, delaying poverty reduction efforts and increasing inequalities.
Current mood: content (5.9)
With the largest middle class in the Americas – 60% of its population – and a tiny 0.1% extreme poverty rate, Uruguay is the happiest country in South America. The nation has also achieved equitable access to basic services, from education to electricity.
The Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela trio go through different stages of progression of happiness levels, but their relationship is very interdependent.
Venezuela and Ecuador face similar economic challenges and sharp drops in oil prices. Venezuela is also heavily affected by socio-political unrest, triggering a massive exodus of citizens to Ecuador and Colombia. The positive side is that the influx of highly educated Venezuelan migrants could increase Ecuador’s GDP by 2%.
Colombia, the most improved country, has halved its poverty rate over the past decade. In addition, it hosted nearly 2 million Venezuelan migrants in December 2020 and plans to offer them up to 10 years of protection status.
Current mood: Happy (6.4)
Finland remains at the top of the ranking as the happiest country in the world. This year’s ranking was also influenced by the high levels of confidence in how the COVID-19 pandemic has been handled.
Meanwhile, the shock of the COVID-19 crisis is expected to be short-lived in Croatia, which is the most improved country. This is in part due to its continued economic gains before the pandemic, although risks remain.
In the most unhappy country of Ukraine, conflicts continue to strain its politics, security and economy. In particular, government corruption remains a major public problem.
Middle East and Central Asia
Current mood: it’s complicated (5.3)
Saudi Arabia is the most improved country in the region as it continues to reduce its dependence on oil, diversify its economy and strengthen its public services. It has also made some progress towards gender equality.
The tourism and hospitality industries contribute nearly 20% of Jordan’s GDP – and COVID-19 has caused prolonged economic decline in the country as well as headwinds for these industries.
Although Afghanistan has seen improved access to basic services and its agricultural economy, problems remain with protracted conflict and violence. A post-pandemic recovery in the world’s most unhappy country could take several years.
East Asia and Oceania
Current Mood: Neutral (5.5)
New Zealand and Taiwan have both seen a successful response and recovery to COVID-19, strengthening their position in the global happiness rankings. In fact, New Zealand was the only non-European country to make the top 10 on the World Happiness List.
Note: Since the report only covers 149 countries, the term “Oceania” only refers to Australia and New Zealand in this case.
Although India remains the region’s most unhappy country, it is also overall that the improvement is the most marked, perhaps due to its increased access to basic services. Notably, however, the pandemic caused a sharp economic contraction in real GDP of 23.9% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2021.
Current mood: unhappy (4.5)
In July 2020, the island nation of Mauritius joined Seychelles to become the second high income country in Africa, helping to solidify its status as the happiest in the region.
Zambia, the most improved African country, has one of the youngest populations in the world in terms of median age, which presents long-term opportunities for participation in the labor market.
On the other hand, Benin, dependent on agriculture, is grappling with great poverty, with nearly 40% of the population living on less than $ 1.90 per day.
Zimbabwe, the most unhappy country, has seen not only natural disasters, but also financial disasters. He experienced hyperinflation of 786% in May 2020, accompanied by an equally sharp rise in food prices.
While each country has been uniquely affected by the pandemic, it’s clear that overall, happiness levels factor in far more. What will future rankings look like in a post-pandemic world?