1. Data

U.S. falls in world happiness report, Finland named happiest country

What are the happiest countries on earth, and why isn’t the U.S. one of them?
Finland was ranked the happiest country to live in. [Associated Press]
Published Mar. 20
Updated Mar. 20

The 5.5 million residents of Finland sure have a lot to be happy about.

At least, they do according to the World Happiness Report, which was released Wednesday by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations.

The 136-page report ranks countries on six key variables that support well-being: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity. It then analyzes those rankings over time and, in some cases, raises potential causes for spikes and decreases in happiness.

The report named Finland the world’s happiest country, followed by Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands. The U.S. came in 19th, a one-place drop from 2018′s report and a five-spot drop since 2017′s.

The U.S.'s place is a part of a trend for the worlds biggest superpowers, none of which broke the ranking’s top 10. The United Kingdom came in 15th place, up from 18th. Japan came in 58th and Germany in 17th, while Russia came in 68th and China in 93rd.

Canada ranked 9th overall and Mexico 23rd.

Of the 156 countries surveyed, the report determined that people in South Sudan are the most unhappy with their lives, followed by Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Tanzania and Rwanda. Venezuela continued to be the most consistent country dropping down the rankings — falling from an average rank of 44th in 2013-15, down to 108 this year.

Why does the U.S. continue to drop, despite economic growth?

The United Nations has produced the World Happiness Report using data from Gallup World Poll surveys since 2012. In that same time frame, the U.S. has dropped from its highest place — 13th — to its lowest of 19th in 2019′s report.

Except for its 10th-place ranking for income, the US did not rank in the top 10 on measures that make up a happy country in the report, placing 12th for generosity, 37th for social support, 61st for freedom and 42nd for corruption.

The report directly points to the country’s issues with addiction and high-use of digital media as reasons for its declining happiness.

“This year’s report provides sobering evidence of how addictions are causing considerable unhappiness and depression in the U.S.,” said report co-author Jeffrey Sachs. “Addictions come in many forms, from substance abuse to gambling to digital media. The compulsive pursuit of substance abuse and addictive behaviors is causing severe unhappiness.”

From a policy standpoint, Sachs says the U.S. has failed to react to the issues it faces, such as obesity rates being among the highest in the world; rising rates of adolescent depression; rising age-adjusted suicide rates since the year 2000; a searing opioid epidemic; and falling overall life expectancy

[Via World Happiness Report]

“In view of the multiple addictive epidemics underway in the United States that are contributing to shockingly adverse public health outcomes," Sachs wrote, "... one would expect a major public policy response.

"Yet the shocking truth is that U.S. public health responses have been small, even insignificant, to date. If anything, the epidemics expose the remarkable power of corporate vested interests in American political life, power that is so great that it has forestalled any effective responses that would jeopardize corporate profits and control.”

The U.S. has an average policy rating of 4.92, according to Sustainable Governance Indicators, when looking at economic, social and environmental policy. Finland, meanwhile, received an average rating of 7.5 when looking at those same policies.

View the full rankings from the report below.

First half of World Happiness Report rankings. [U.N.]
Part one of the World Happiness Report rankings. [United Nations]
Part three of the World Happiness Report rankings. [United Nations]


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