Happiness Report: Here are the

Image: Canva

Happiness Report: Here are the 10 ‘happiest countries’ in the world

The World Happiness Report 2021 looked at the relationship between a person’s well-being and COVID-19. Here’s where SA fits in:

Happiness Report: Here are the

Image: Canva

Finland has been named the happiest place in the world for a fourth year running, according to the recent World Happiness Report sponsored by the United Nations (UN).

South Africa and the ranking of happiness

The World Happiness Report saw Denmark take second place, followed by Switzerland, Iceland and the Netherlands. New Zealand was again the only non-European nation in the top 10.

South Africa came in at number 76 – well behind China, Mexico and the Philippines for example.

And while the report marks a sombre moment as COVID-19 continues to rage on a little more than a year since it was declared a pandemic by the WHO, there is hope that the end game is in sight, as vaccine rollout steadily increases while many continue to adhere to mask mandates and physical distancing.

This year’s 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. 

“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.”

The 10 happiest countries in the world

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. Looking at each country from 2018-2020, they found these 10 countries to be the happiest in the world:

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Switzerland
  4. Iceland
  5. Netherlands
  6. Norway
  7. Sweden
  8. Luxembourg
  9. New Zealand
  10. Austria

The country deemed the most unhappy in the world was Afghanistan, followed by Lesotho, Botswana, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.

Factors helping to account for the variation between countries

The report looked to answer a key question: “Why the different COVID-19 death rates across the world?” Death rates were very much higher in the Americas and Europe than in East Asia, Australasia, and Africa.

“This has been a very challenging year, but the early data also show some notable signs of resilience in feelings of social connection and life evaluations.” said Lara Aknin.

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 and the workforce

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.

As one would expect with lockdowns and physical distancing, the pandemic also had a significant effect on workforce well-being. Falling unemployed during the pandemic is associated with a 12% 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% 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.”