Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Do You Live in a Happy Country?

The World Happiness Report ranks countries by level of happiness.

Key points

  • Richer, more developed countries place higher in the happiness rankings.
  • The U.S. ranked 16th, just below Canada. The U.K. was in 17th place.
  • It is questionable, though, whether happiness can actually be measured at all.
 Antonio Quagliata/Pexels
Source: Antonio Quagliata/Pexels

Some countries are happier than others, apparently. Obviously, the countries themselves don't feel either happy or sad (even though we often attribute personal qualities to them), but the people living in them do.

The 2022 World Happiness Report is out. It is published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a global initiative for the United Nations, and is powered by the Gallup World Poll data. The website that contains the details of the report explains that "a decade ago, governments around the world expressed the desire to put happiness at the heart of the global development agenda, and they adopted a UN General Assembly resolution for that purpose." It is nice to imagine the UN discussing happiness, rather than war, as has been the case recently. The report produces a rank of countries according to how happy they are. The results this year are similar to previous reports, which is not surprising, given that the metrics used remain more or less unaltered and that countries tend not to change that much from one year to the next.

I have to say that I have very significant reservations as to whether happiness is something that can be measured by asking people in the street about their subjective feelings. More importantly, I also have reservations about the very concept of happiness, as regular readers of this blog know.

As I explain in my book, I simply don't believe there is any convincing evidence that happiness exists, other than as a construct, or an abstract concept. What the World Happiness Report measures is, in my view, not happiness, but proxies of well-being, such as income security, health expectancy, or trust in national institutions. Subjective feelings of happiness and unhappiness are also covered, but these are subject to cultural variations. For instance, in some countries, it would be seen as bad manners to tell a stranger with a clipboard that you are feeling sad, whereas in others it might be quite natural. Nevertheless, given that economic well-being is a central part of what is being measured, it comes as no surprise that richer countries can be found at the top of the ranking, whereas poorer ones find themselves languishing at the bottom.

Finland comes first, although one wonders if the fact that the Finnish are now wondering if they should join NATO after all, in the wake of recent events and after many years of neutrality, may have impacted their national sense of security and well-being. Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, and the Netherlands follow. The U.S. is in the 16th position, just below Canada, and the U.K. is next, in 17th place. Afghanistan lies at the very bottom, in position 146.

At the end of the day, whether we call the things being measured in this report happiness or something else is mainly a semantic issue. What matters is that some countries have better standards of living, better health, and more freedoms than others, but richer nations should help those with fewer economic resources achieve better standards. Generosity is one factor considered in the report, so improving the level of solidarity between all nations on the planet should help make all of us much happier.