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Norwegians Are Named 2017’s Happiest People

Scandanavian countries take the top spots in the annual World Happiness Report

Norway: The happiest place on earth (Wikimedia Commons)
smithsonian.com

Yesterday, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a panel of social science experts that work under the umbrella of the United Nations released its annual "World Happiness Report." No. 1 for this year? Norway, a nation which ranked fourth last year, reports Niraj Chokshi at The New York Times.

The Nordic nations dominated the top of the rankings. Following Norway, Denmark and Iceland took the silver and bronze, respectively. Finland, another Scandinavian nation, placed fifth. While the top 10 nations did not change from last year, the order of their ranking did switch. The Central African Republic was the lowest of the 155 nations listed.

The first report was published in 2012. Each year, its rankings are determined based on six economic and social factors: per capita income, healthy life expectancy, social support (having someone to count on in times of trouble), generosity, freedom and trust, with the latter measured by the absence of corruption in business and government. These factors are all distilled into weighted average score on a scale from 0 to 10.

In a press release, the report authors say that Norway’s score of 7.537 is so close to the other top four nations that very tiny changes can reorder them from year to year. They point out that though weaker oil prices impacted Norway’s economy and GDP over the last year, it did not impact its happiness very much. “Norway achieves and maintains its high happiness not because of its oil wealth, but in spite of it,” the editors write. “By choosing to produce its oil slowly, and investing the proceeds for the future rather than spending them in the present, Norway has insulated itself from the boom and bust cycle of many other resource-rich economies. To do this successfully requires high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance, all factors that help to keep Norway and other top countries where they are in the happiness rankings.”

Jon-Åge Øyslebø, minister of communications, cultural affairs and education at the Norwegian Embassy tells Allison Aubrey at NPR that he agrees that happiness is not just about economics. “Norway is a relatively egalitarian society with regard to both to income differences and gender,” he says. “Absolutely there's more to it than money.”

The report also includes special chapters investigating areas of concern. China, for instance—currently 79th with a rating of 5.273 in the "World Happiness Report"—has struggled on its subjective well-being measurement over the past 25 years despite its booming economy.

The report also includes a chapter on the United States, which ranked 14th this year, just behind Austria and down a spot from 2016. While the U.S. GDP has continued to rise in recent years, American happiness levels have not. Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Columbia University economist and one of the editors of the report, tells Chokshi that the dropoff comes not from economic problems, but from the social side of the equation. Increasingly, Americans feel less social support and increased corruption. “The country is mired in a roiling social crisis that is getting worse,” Sachs writes. “Yet the dominant political discourse is all about raising the rate of economic growth.”

Sachs says improving the nation’s ranking will require policies including campaign finance reform, fixing wealth inequality, improving education and lessening the culture of fear that has developed since the 9/11 attacks.

The report is based on survey questions given to 1,000 people in each of the participating nations. While the results are subjective measures of happiness, Sachs tells Patricia Reaney at Reuters that he hopes nations take the measures seriously. “I want governments to measure this, discuss it, analyze it and understand when they have been off on the wrong direction,” he says.

Some nations appear to have taken the report to heart. Last year, the United Arab Emirates became one of just a handful of countries to create a "minister of happiness" post to “align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction.” The UAE currently ranks 21 on the list, with a score of 6.648.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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