The sixth World Happiness Report was published in March. The main purpose of the report remains the same since it first appeared in 2012: to provide a survey of the scientific data being collected that measures the often subjective matter of human well-being and happiness. What are the most significant changes in 2018 compared with previous years?
One of the key things to take into consideration with the World Happiness Report, which is published annually by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, is that its findings are worked out on established scientific data. Essentially, the index of happiness that the network figures out is based on questioning people in every country of the world, but the data that is gathered is subject to an internationally respected statistical methodology, known as the Gallup World Poll. Respondents to the survey are asked to imagine a ladder of life well-being, ranked from zero to ten, and to place themselves on that ladder. Levels of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, healthy life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom to make life choices and corruption are then taken into consideration to provide a score for each country. The most recent surveys that are undertaken are combined with previous ones which helps the authors to take into account differences between the relative sample sizes and frequency of surveys in different countries.
Key New Findings In the 2018 Report
Although a number of facts that have been established in the 2018 edition of the World Happiness Report do little more than reiterate what we already knew about global happiness, there are some surprises to take account of, too. One of the most strident of these is the relationship that the citizens of Togo have with happiness. In the 2015 report, the West African state came in at the bottom of the pile for how much happiness was scored by residents in that country. Most respondents placed themselves as being on the lower rungs of the survey’s imaginary ladder of happiness then. The 2018 report has seen a significant upturn in the ranking of Togo which, it states, is the greatest gainer this year compared with previous ones. Togo’s inhabitants are now more likely to rank themselves on middling rungs. In a poor country, it is only possible to speculate about the cause of this upturn but infant mortality is known to have dropped in the state, according to UNICEF. More children are also attending primary school than did so previously.
The United States also raised some eyebrows in the 2018 report. This is because one of the wealthiest countries on the planet slipped four places compared with its 2017 position. Ranked in 18th place by the report’s authors, the USA has never been in the top ten of countries since the UN began publishing the report. Its 2018 placing marks an all time low for the country.
Another key development that the 2018 report focussed on was the level of happiness of immigrants in their adoptive countries. The authors established separate data from the overall surveys which pinpointed the opinions of those people who had been born outside of the country they currently reside in. A significant correlation was found between ‘native’ respondents to the happiness surveys and migrants. According to John Helliwell, an economist at the University of British Columbia who co-edited the report, this constituted a, “most striking finding.” The report demonstrated how the happiness of relative newcomers to a country tends to match that of the locally born population, something that had not been fully established in previous reports.
Which Countries Are the Happiest?
Finland was ranked by the World Happiness Report as the number one country in the world in 2018. Although Scandinavian countries have always performed well in previous editions, Finland was notable because it jumped from fifth place in 2017 to the top spot. Interestingly, the country was also ranked as the happiest place to live amongst its immigrant population, echoing the wider findings on that section of society.
Norway, Denmark and Iceland took the next three spots in the world rankings, although Sweden only managed to gain the ninth-place spot, up one position from the previous year. Two other European countries appeared in the top ten, Switzerland and the Netherlands placed fifth and sixth respectively. The report’s authors placed Canada in seventh place, the same position it had held in 2017. New Zealand was ranked in eighth place overall but received the accolade of being the second happiest country in the world so far as its immigrant communities were concerned. Australia was placed in the tenth position in the report’s rankings.
The United Kingdom was ranked 19th overall in the 2018 report. This place was established despite the UK being ninth on the list of countries with the best GDP per capita and tenth on the list of most free places to live. Is it possible to draw the conclusion that money and the perception liberty does not make British people as happy as they might be? Perhaps so, but there is more to it than that. The UK was ranked 21st in the 2018 report for social support. It was also placed in 58th place for a healthy life expectancy. To put that into context, this position is two behind India and many places behind countries like Costa Rica, Thailand and even Rwanda, which all score much more highly. It is important, however, not to consider this situation to be a particularly British problem. Another large European economy with a similar population also scored similarly: France. In 2018, the French Republic was ranked 23rd overall.