Levels of happiness around the world in 2021

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“Are you happy?” is a deceptively complex question to both ask and answer.

It is well known that having enough money to meet your needs and wants can help you lead a relatively happy and comfortable life – and recent research shows that this relationship can also increase linearly as income increases.

However, there is much more to it than that. The level of happiness depends not only on financial security, but also on a broader perception of one’s own social support, personal freedom, and more.

This series of maps pulls data from the World Happiness Report to reveal the average scores of 149 countries between 2018-2020 and see which were happiest or most unhappy. We also look at the countries with the most and least improvements in each region.

How is happiness measured?

First, let’s look at the factors used to calculate global happiness levels. Some clear indicators are health and wealth, both metrics that have grown steadily around the world. The report takes these into account and weights the GDP per capita and life expectancy at birth in the values.

The report also looks at intangibles and gathers survey responses on:

  • social care
  • Freedom to make life choices
  • generosity
  • Perception of corruption in government / corporate business
  • Positive or negative affects (recently experienced emotions)

This year, a natural focus has been on measuring the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on happiness levels, such as exacerbation of mental health risks. In addition, such measurements varied depending on how each country responded to the crisis.

A closer look at the regional level of happiness

Worldwide happiness is on average 5.5, a slight improvement since we previously covered this report in 2019. Let’s dive into the regional outlook for happiness levels.

North America

Current mood: Happy (6.1)

Canada retains its place as the happiest country in North America, although its overall global ranking has declined over the years. In 2019 it was ranked ninth worldwide, dropped to 11th in the 2020 edition and further down to 14th in this year’s report.

Haiti ranks high with average annual GDP growth of only 1.3% over 20 years. The weak economy and political instability were made worse by the pandemic – undoing efforts to reduce poverty and widen inequality.

South America

Current mood: content (5.9)

With the largest middle class in America – 60% of the population – and a tiny one 0.1% extreme poverty Rate, Uruguay is the happiest South American country. The country has also achieved equal access to basic services, from education to electricity.

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The trio of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela experience different stages of happiness progression, but their relationship is highly interdependent.

Venezuela and Ecuador face similar economic challenges and a sharp drop in oil prices. Venezuela is also acutely affected by socio-political unrest, which is triggering mass exodus of citizens to Ecuador and Colombia. The silver lining is that the influx of highly educated Venezuelan migrants could increase Ecuador’s GDP by 2%.

Colombia, the most improved country, has halved its poverty rate over the past decade. In addition, it has taken in nearly 2 million Venezuelan migrants by December 2020 – and plans to grant them protection status for up to 10 years.

Europe

Current mood: Happy (6.4)

Finland remains at the top of the rankings as the happiest country in the world. This year’s ranking was also characterized by a high level of trust in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the meantime, the shock of the COVID-19 crisis in Croatia, the most improved country, is expected to be short-lived. This is partly due to the steady economic gains prior to the pandemic, although risks remain.

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In Ukraine, the most unhappy country, conflicts continue to weigh on politics, security and the economy. Government corruption in particular remains a major public issue.

Middle East and Central Asia

Current mood: It’s complicated (5.3)

Saudi Arabia is the most improved country in the region as it further reduces its oil dependence, diversifies its economy, and strengthens its public services. Some progress has also been made on gender equality.

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Tourism and hospitality contribute nearly 20% to Jordan’s GDP – and COVID-19, along with headwinds from these industries, has resulted in the country’s ongoing economic decline.

Although Afghanistan has seen improvements in access to basic services and its agriculture economy, challenges remain from ongoing conflict and violence. A post-pandemic recovery in the world’s most unhappy country could take several years.

East Asia and Oceania

Current mood: Neutral (5.5)

Both New Zealand and Taiwan saw a successful COVID-19 response and rebound that improved their positions in global happiness rankings. In fact, New Zealand was the only non-European country that made it into the top 10 global happiness list.

most-and-most-unfortunate-countries-2021-east-asia-and-oceania

Note: As the report only covers 149 countries, “Oceania” in this case only refers to Australia and New Zealand.

While India remains the most unhappy country in the region, it has improved the most overall, possibly due to its improved access to basic services. What is noteworthy, however, is that the pandemic resulted in a sharp economic decline in real GDP of 23.9% year over year in the first quarter of 2021.

Africa

Current mood: Unhappy (4.5)

In July 2020, the island nation of Mauritius, along with the Seychelles, became the second high-income country in Africa and helped cement its status as the happiest in the region.

Zambia, the most improved African country, has one of the youngest average age populations in the world – which offers long-term opportunities for labor force participation.

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On the other hand, agriculture-dependent Benin is struggling with high poverty, with almost 40% of the population living under $ 1.90 a day.

Zimbabwe, the most unfortunate country, has not only experienced natural disasters, but also financial disasters. It experienced hyperinflation of 786% in May 2020, accompanied by an equally sharp rise in food prices.

While each country is uniquely affected by the pandemic, it’s clear that by and large, happiness levels take so much more into account. What will future rankings look like in a post-pandemic world?



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