Decoding the World Happiness Report 2018

Finland is the happiest country in the world as per the latest World Happiness Report released by United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network on March 14, 2018 that ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels covering the period 2015 to 2017. Norway, the last year’s winner, attains second place followed by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia. The list of the top-10 happiest countries, as ever, is dominated by the Nordics. On the other hand people in Burundi are unhappiest, followed by Central African Republic (155), South Sudan (154), Tanzania (153), Yemen (152) and Rwanda (151). Sub-Saharan African nations continue to be the least happy in the world, reporting happiness levels even below the strife-torn Syria.

The United States, which ranked 14th last year, drops four places to be at 18th position in this year’s  happiness ranking, showing Americans are getting less happy despite getting richer. The Report is unhappy news for India, rather a grim one.  India ranks at a lowly 133rd   position, registering a significant drop of 11 places from last year’s 122nd rank.  Sadly, Indians are unhappier than most of their South Asian neighbours including the citizens of Pakistan.

Why do the Nordic Nations dominate the list of the ten Happiest nations? Why are Americans getting less happy despite getting richer? Why does India figure so low in happiness ladder? The answer to these questions lies in the factors, six in number, which are considered in computing happiness index: income (GDP per capita), healthy years of life expectancy, social support (as measured by having someone to count on in times of trouble), trust (as measured by a perceived absence of corruption in government and business), perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity (as measured by recent donations). Apart from gross domestic product per person, and healthy life expectancy which are measured objectively, the last four factors are based upon global surveys.

An analysis of 2018 Happiness list of the top 10 countries shows Europe’s Nordic nations, none particularly diverse, have dominated the index. Four of these countries — Denmark, Switzerland, Norway and now Finland — have been in first place in the six World Happiness reports since the first report published in 2012. The top five countries have almost the same high values for all the six factors determining happiness; the differences being so small that jostling among the top five is expected every year. This domination demonstrates “Nordic happiness”, according to Michael Birkjær, an analyst at the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. This, he said, comes from “healthy amounts of personal freedom, trust (both in other people and in the system) and social security, which outweighs residents having to pay some of the highest taxes in the world.”  Free healthcare and university education has gone a long way in contributing to the happiness levels in these countries.

It is remarkable that Finland, a tiny country of 5.5 million people tucked into a northern corner of Europe, is the top scorer even though  GDP per capita in Finland is lower than its neighbouring Nordic countries and is much lower than that of the US. The goes to show that Finns are good at converting wealth into wellbeing.   Finland has the distinction of being not only the most stable, the safest and best governed country but it also is among the least corrupt and the most socially progressive nations in the world. Great educational facilities and access to free healthcare services have propelled Finland to rise from the last year’s fifth rank to the top spot.

Indians aren’t a happy people according to World Happiness Report.  Placed at 133rd rank in the global list, India lags behind all the SAARC nations barring war-torn Afghanistan which is ranked at 145 in the global happiness index. Among the SAARC nations Maldives does not figure in the Happiness Report. Nepal, which is described as the ‘poorest-of-poor’, has fared better in the ‘joy’ report with the rank of 101 than India. The tiny country of Bhutan, the pioneer in National Happiness, is ahead of India at 97th place. Bangladesh at 115 is also happier than India. It means the less developed neighbours are better off than India. China has been placed at 86th rank, Sri Lanka at 116 and Myanmar, which is embroiled in the ethnic violence, stands at 130th position. The most intriguing is the ranking of terror-ravaged Pakistan at 75, far ahead of India on happiness count. Despite being a much larger economy than Pakistan, India’s per capita income is marginally more than its neighbor. Looking closely at other parameters, one finds that India performs better than Pakistan in healthy life expectancy and freedom to make life choices but under performs on other factors such as social support, generosity. As result, over all happiness score of India turns out be 4.190 lagging significantly behind Pakistan’s 5.472.

The report points out a paradox about happiness in the world’s largest economy USA. Despite being among the highest income per capita countries, America’s happiness has been dented by weakening social support, perception of increasing government corruption and falling confidence in public institutions and also rising income inequality. While its per capita income is on the rise, subjective wellbeing is being systematically undermined by three interrelated epidemic diseases, notably obesity, substance abuse and depression.              

The analysis of the World Happiness Report shows that income is an important determinant of happiness but a high income is not a guarantee for happiness. Mere economic growth is not enough to raise national happiness, for that growth has to be translated into welfare. No wonder, the countries that are high on happiness chart are the ones which have been able to convert their wealth into wellbeing.   


Published in The Tribune on March24, 2018 on OPED Page

6 Replies to “Decoding the World Happiness Report 2018”

  1. This is a well managed article. The way you have written it is very impressive. Your most of the articles compel the readers to think upon the theme.
    In my opinion most dominant factor in case of India is lack of faith in the government. There is erosion of confidence and satisfaction with the way the government is working. The only way to regain the trust of people is through welfare measures. Everyone has some parameters for a good government like a transparent system ( whereas in our country corruption has reached at its highest level), better infrastructure (after spending millions still there are some areas of Bihar, odisha without any road connectivity), quality education and so on. People evade taxes because of the insecurity of being misuse of there hard earned money by the great ministers of our country for their selfish means. This is the need of time to minimise this insecurity among the citizens. Than after that we will definitely improve our rank in Happiness report.

    (Ma’am you are an awesome writer.. I love reading your articles. Keep inspiring 🙏)

  2. Simran ,thank you so much . I am glad the article compelled you to reflect over the subject.

    Your take on d subject reflects disillusionment with d government which is one of the important factors in Happiness ranking . Actually there are 6 parameters on the basis of which World Happiness report is compiled and India lags behind in most of these.

  3. Dear Ma’am
    The article is an explicit perusal of the report. I am pleased to be aware of numerous factors which lead to happiness and sorrow among nations.
    Additionally, I think, albeit the government backpedals on some reforms; in the past two decades, the standard of living has conspicuously improved despite substandard implementation of policies and schemes, rendering hope to the citizens. But lingering mediocrity has lead to vexation among the taxpayers. Had the economy been stagnant like other underdeveloped south-asian countries, the people would have become more complacent. Furthermore, overpopulation, too, exacerbates the situation.

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