What makes a country happy, and who is the happiest

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international association that provides a forum in which governments can work together to share experiences and seeks solutions to common problems.

Since 2012, they have created and released the World Happiness Report, a study measuring the 155-member country’s well-being. The OECD believe the happiness of a country’s people is a direct cause of social and economic development and works with countries to propel their financial and social status in the right direction. I’ve broken down the most important points for you, but there is a link to the report at the bottom of the article if you’re interested.

So, what makes people happy?

The OECD measures a person’s happiness through a series of questions getting and individual to evaluate their own life on a scale from 0 – 10. They do many other things as well to calculate the long-term effects of their studies, but that’s the gist of it.

According to their report, the main factors that make people happy are their levels of:

  • Caring
  • Freedom
  • Generosity
  • Honesty
  • Income, and
  • Good governance

However, the 6 key variables that affect the factors above and help explain the measured differences between a country’s levels of happiness are:

  • The GDP per capital
  • Social support – the number of people in your community you can count on in times of need
  • Healthy life expectancy
  • Social freedom – the amount of freedom one has to choose what they do with their lives
  • Generosity – people donating their time and money to help the community
  • Absence of corruption in business and government

Who is happy?

The world’s average level of happiness is 5.310. The top three regions are Northern America & ANZ with a mean of 7.046, Western Europe at 6.593, and Latin America & the Caribbean at 6.342.

The bottom three regions are the Middle East & North Africa at 5.117, South Asia at 4.442, and Sub-Saharan Africa at 4.292.

The top ten happiest countries are:

  1. Norway – 7.537
  2. Denmark – 7.522
  3. Iceland – 7.504
  4. Switzerland – 7.494
  5. Finland – 7.469
  6. Netherlands – 7.377
  7. Canada – 7.316
  8. New Zealand – 7.314
  9. Australia – 7.284
  10. Sweden – 7.284

Other notable countries
14. United States – 6.993
16. Germany – 6.951
49. Russia – 5.63
79. China – 5.373
155. Central African Republic – 2.693 (Last)

Taking in the key variables mentioned above, it’s not surprising the top ten countries are all first-world progressive nations, and 16 of the bottom 20 countries are in Africa where social and economic development is the lowest.

Another notable statistic is that only 70 out of the 155 countries had increasing happiness levels (Canada actually decreasing by a small margin).

Is this data reliable?

Personal surveys are very subjective. However, happiness is a feeling so one’s subjective response is one of the only ways to can analyze it. You will get people taking part in the survey that are having great days and horrible days that would skew the results, but the OECD’s sample size was large enough to negate that issue.

Regarding accuracy, it makes a lot of sense when you look at the data. For example, the Ukraine’s happiness level went down almost an entire point over the past 10 years. What’s been going on in the Ukraine? Continuous riots and protest against the government and Russia taking Crimea. These issues have had a serious impact on all 6 of the key variables.

Compare that to Nicaragua, the country whose happiness has increased the most over the past 10 years (by 1.354). They’ve invested heavily in technology, infrastructure, and tourism. This has boosted the country’s economy, brought people from all over the world to explore the country and meet the people, and helped developed the social tolerance and standing of the nation.

The main takeaway

Any community looking to further itself has to take care of the people first. Create an environment where people feel free to take chances and be themselves, and the economic growth will follow.


The report: https://s3.amazonaws.com/sdsn-whr2017/HR17-Ch2_lr.pdf

OECD’s website: http://www.oecd.org


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