Joy to the world: who were the happiest countries in 2018?

By Emily Ng

What makes a country happy?

This is an interesting question that is explored each year by the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network. And each year, the World Happiness Report ranks 156 countries surveyed by Gallup World Poll based on their happiness levels.

How do you measure happiness?

The measure of happiness is determined by 6 major factors:

  1. GDP
  2. Life expectancy
  3. Social support
  4. Generosity
  5. Freedom
  6. Corruption

Rankings are calculated based on answers to the “Cantril Ladder” where respondents are asked to rate their current lives on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the best possible life and 0 being the worst.

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Migration and happiness

World's happiest countries 2018

The main focus of this year’s publication was to explore the changes in happiness in relation to migration within and between countries.

The report evaluated the happiness levels of immigrants from 117 countries, with results showing striking consistencies between the happiness of immigrants and locally born residents. Migrants who move from unhappier countries to happier ones generally see an increase in their viewed wellbeing.

"The report also found that the world's top 10 happiest countries have foreign born populations of 17.2% on average."

The report also found that the world’s top 10 happiest countries have foreign born populations of 17.2% on average. This indicates that a higher degree of acceptance towards migrants tends to increase happiness levels for the general population.

Money can’t buy happiness

The term ‘money can’t buy happiness’ seems to be true for the US, with its happiness index continuing to fall despite being a nation with one of the highest income per capita. Over the last year, their ranking has dropped 4 places - placing them 18th this year.

The reason for the decline in happiness was seen to be due to the worsening public health crisis, in which major issues included obesity, substance addiction and depression.

Latin America on the other hand has scored consistently well in the happiness index despite what their average per capita income would suggest.

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Three cheers for…

The Nordic nations have once again topped the list taking the top 4 places. These countries have been dominating the index since the release of the first publication in 2012.

But why is this the case? Meik Wiking of The Happiness Research Institute in Denmark suggests that Nordic countries pay some of the highest taxes in the world, however use the funds to increase quality of life through free healthcare and university education. These factors all contribute a great amount to the nation’s overall happiness.

So who else has earned their place in the top 10 happiest countries this year? Let’s take a look.

10. Australia - Happiness Index 7.139

World Happiness Report 2018

Despite dropping a position from the previous year, Australia is still one of the world’s happiest nations. Rightfully nicknamed “the lucky country”, Australia is home to picturesque beaches and beautiful flora and fauna.

It’s estimated to have the world’s 13th highest GDP - with a growing population of 24.6 million - and of the top 10 countries, Australia also has the largest international population. 28% of that 24.6 million people, in fact.

Read: Best places to live around Australia - top areas in every capital city

9. Sweden - Happiness Index 7.314

Up one stop this year, Sweden has consistently ranked well for happiness due to its exceptional work life balance and high standards of living. The beauty of their scenery is envious with thousands of coastal islands, lakes, forests and mountains. Home to 9.9 million people, their GDP per capita is among the highest in the EU.

8. New Zealand - Happiness Index 7.324

Our neighbours in breathtaking New Zealand have dropped 5 places this year. Home to 4.79 million people, this country is rich in biodiversity and wildlife. New Zealand is also a global leader in economic freedom, ranking 3rd among 43 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

7. Canada - Happiness Index 7.328

Happiness Index

The North American country of Canada is home to vast and incredible parklands and rocky mountains. Canada and it’s 36 million residents enjoy a high life expectancy and a well developed and mixed economy that’s rewarded them with the 10th largest GDP in the world.

6. Netherlands - Happiness Index 7.441

Located in northwestern Europe and known for its progressiveness and liveability, Netherlands takes the 6th spot in the top 10. A population of 17 million and GDP of 826 billion, the Dutch are as they were last year, scoring high in all 6 factors.

5. Switzerland - Happiness Index 7.487

With fairytale-like scenery and state of the art infrastructure and education systems, Switzerland has placed 5th in the happiness index this year. Home to 8.4 million people, the Swiss rank 2nd in world life expectancy at the age of 82.

4. Iceland - Happiness Index 7.495

Happiest countries in the world

With landscapes defined by powerful volcanoes, hot springs and glaciers, Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe - occupied by only 338,000 residents. Here, Icelanders enjoy low crime rates and an excellent education and welfare system. With no standing army, navy or airforce, Iceland is also the most peaceful country in the world.

Read: Buying a holiday house: is it a smart idea?

3. Denmark - Happiness Index 7.555

Ranking third on the list and with a population of 5.77 million, Denmark is considered one of the most socially developed and economically sound countries in the world.

Denmark has a high degree of political stability, freedom of press and respect for human rights, as well as a 99% literacy rate. To top it all off, they also have one of the smallest socioeconomic gaps in the world. No wonder they’re so happy!

2. Norway - Happiness Index 7.594

Dethroned from the top last year, Norway is one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Here, a population of 5.25 million residents enjoy free healthcare, excellent education systems and a small income gap. And if that isn't enough, the country is also a founding member of several international organisations such as the UN, NATO , the European Free Trade Association and the Council of Europe.

1. Finland - Happiness Index 7.632

Top 10 happiest countries

Taking first place in this year’s World Happiness Report is Finland! Although a small country of 5.5 million people, Finland not only boasts low corruption rates, impeccable environmental standards and a high standard of living, they also rank fourth in this year’s Press Freedom Index and Global Gender Gap Report.


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