Every year the World Happiness Report normally compiles data from the previous three years of surveys. They do this to increase the sample size and keep the confidence bounds smaller. This year’s World Happiness Report was faced with a unique challenge in trying to understand what effect the pandemic has had on subjective well-being and vice versa.
Of all the factors usually supporting happiness, the most important for explaining COVID-19 death rates were people’s trust in each other, and confidence in their governments. Overall, it can be said that happiness and resiliance have outplayed the virus.
“We need urgently to learn from Covid-19,” said Jeffrey Sachs. “The pandemic reminds us of our global environmental threats, the urgent need to cooperate, and the difficulties of achieving cooperation in each country and globally. The World Happiness Report 2021 reminds us that we must aim for wellbeing rather than mere wealth, which will be fleeting indeed if we don’t do a much better job of addressing the challenges of sustainable development.”
Finland has defended its position at the top of the list for the fourth year running. The nordic nation of 5.5 million “ranked very high on the measures of mutual trust that have helped to protect lives and livelihoods during the pandemic”, the authors said.
Looking at each country from 2018-2020, they find these 10 are the happiest in the world:
- Finland 🇫🇮
- Denmark 🇩🇰
- Switzerland 🇨🇭
- Iceland 🇮🇸
- Netherlands 🇳🇱
- Norway 🇳🇴
- Sweden 🇸🇪
- Luxembourg 🇱🇺
- New Zealand 🇳🇿
- Austria 🇦🇹
It comes as no surprise that Finland once again takes the top spot from last year as the happiest country in the world according to survey data taken from the Gallup World Poll. It has always ranked very high on the measures of mutual trust that have helped to protect lives and livelihoods during the pandemic. The rankings overall remained very similar to last year.
“Surprisingly there was not, on average, a decline in well-being when measured by people’s own evaluation of their lives,” said John Helliwell. “One possible explanation is that people see COVID-19 as a common, outside threat affecting everybody and that this has generated a greater sense of solidarity and fellow-feeling.”
Factors helping to account for the variation between countries included: the age of the population; whether the country was an island; proximity to other highly infected countries. Cultural differences played a key role as well including confidence in public institutions; knowledge from previous epidemics; income inequality; whether the head of government was a woman, and even whether lost wallets were likely to be returned.
Mental health has been one of the casualties both of the pandemic and of the resulting lockdowns. When the pandemic struck, there was a large and immediate decline in mental health in many countries around the world. Estimates vary depending on the measure used and the country in question, but the qualitative findings are remarkably similar. In the UK, in May 2020, a general measure of mental health was 7.7 per cent lower than predicted in the absence of the pandemic, and the number of mental health problems reported was 47 per cent higher.
“Living long is as important as living well. In terms of well-being-years per person born, the world has made great progress in recent decades which even COVID-19 has not fully offset,” said Richard Layard.
As one would expect with lockdowns and physical distancing, the pandemic had a significant effect on workforce well-being. Falling unemployed during the pandemic is associated with a 12 per cent drop in life satisfaction.
“Strikingly, we find that among people who stopped work due to furlough or redundancy, the impact on life satisfaction was 40 per cent more severe for individuals that felt lonely, to begin with,” said Jan-Emmanuel De Neve. “Our report also points towards a ‘hybrid’ future of work, that strikes a balance between office life and working from home to maintain social connections while ensuring flexibility for workers, both of which turn out to be key drivers of workplace well-being.”
The World Happiness Report is a publication of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, powered by data from the Gallup World Poll. Including the World Risk Poll by Lloyd’s Register Foundation, and the life satisfaction data collected during 2020 as part of the Covid Data Hub. The Report is supported by 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.
The report is edited by Professor John F. Helliwell of the University of British Columbia; Professor Richard Layard, co-director of the Wellbeing Programme at LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance; University Professor Jeffrey Sachs, President of SDSN and the Earth Institute’s Center for Sustainable Development; Professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Director of the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford: Professor Lara B. Aknin of Simon Fraser University, and Professor Shun Wang of the Korea Development Institute.