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What makes the happiest countries, happy?

The happiest countries in the world might not be such a surprise, but the reason they’re happy is pretty unique.

Everyone knows happiness is getting ready for an adventure somewhere far away. Or is it that feeling you get when you were a good little kid and Santa Claus left presents under the Christmas tree? Some might even argue that happiness is enjoying Trappist beers at a Trappest price.

It is difficult to determine what “happiness” is. Even worse is – ranking countries by happiness. But that doesn’t stop people from trying. So what is happiness and what makes a country happy? Golden beaches? Depressing London weather? NYC pizzerias? Finland’s long, dark, dark winters?

Defining and measuring happiness

Very well defines happiness as “Happiness is an emotional state characterized by feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment and fulfillment(think NYC pizzerias).


National happiness rankings are based on a Cantril scale survey. Data is collected by asking people from these nations to think of a scale – the best for them is a 10 and the worst possible life is a 0. People are then asked to rate their lives on this scale.

The idea of ​​the Cantril scale is that respondents self-anchor based on their own perspectives.

The report correlates the results with various life factors.

The World Happiness Reports are based on a wide variety of data, but the most important source has always been the Gallup World Poll. The Gallup World Poll is unique in the range and comparability of its global series of annual surveys.


To note: Unemployment and inequality are not taken into account because they are not considered comparable in all countries

Related: How to Make Ends Meet and Make It Work as a Digital Nomad (While Traveling the World)

The World Happiness Report 2020

the World Happiness Report 2020 ranks 156 countries based on an average of the last three years of surveys. It focused on the environment (social, urban and natural) and included the links between happiness and sustainable development.

According to this list, the happiest country in the world is Finland (a position it has held for three consecutive years). The finalists were broadly similar Nordic countries – Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland and Norway. The only non-European country to make the top ten list was New Zealand.


Countries were weighted by GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices and generosity. By including GDP per capita, it is assumed that money is one of the main causes of happiness and that only rich countries can reach the top.

Ranking of the top ten:

  • Finland: Rating 7.809
  • Denmark: Rating 7,646
  • Switzerland: Score 7.560
  • Iceland: Rating 7,504
  • Norway: Rating 7,488
  • Netherlands: Rating 7,449
  • Sweden: Rating 7,353
  • New Zealand: Rating 7,300
  • Austria: Rating 7,294
  • Luxemburg: Rating 7,238

The United States came in 18th (score 6.940) and Canada 11th (score 7.223).


The most unhappy countries in the world were (starting with the most unhappy)

  • Afghanistan: Rating 2.567
  • South Sudan: Rating 2.817
  • Zimbabwe: Rating 3,299
  • Rwanda: Score 3.312
  • Central African Republic: 3.476

Related: Tourist Vs. Traveler: What’s The Difference And Which Type Of Travel Is Best For You?

Limitations: take it with a pinch of salt

Some find the top results a little odd given that most of these countries are also notorious for their social coldness. People in Nordic countries like to be reserved and keep their personal space all the time.

A joke circulating in the Nordic countries since the pandemic is that the 2 meter (6ft) social distancing rule is awkward for them as they normally keep 4 meters (12ft) apart.


Basically, he seems happy to be a rich European (or a Kiwi). These countries are not, especially the countries of the smiley faces. Of course, different cultures have different ways of expressing happiness. But still, don’t expect to see people jumping for joy to be alive on the streets of the happiest city in the world, Helsinki.

  • Limits: The report may not correspond to what is experienced in real life

It is also strange that Rwanda scored so low, as it is also considered one of the least corrupt, most stable and most developed countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It is ranked below barely functional states like Chad, Haiti, and Venezuela (in Chad it can be difficult to grow crops, so even food is insufficient).

  • Rwanda: Rwanda’s low ranking is strange
  • Experienced travellers: Travelers are often skeptical of what they see in the real world

Some people who travel the world and interact with people all over the world would advise taking these ranks with a pinch of salt. If one visits Finland, one is not likely to see beaming faces on every street corner or see energetic Latin or Indian dancing.

Something as subjective and complex as national happiness simply cannot be summed up in a single numerical list. That doesn’t mean the effort is wasted, just that people’s mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing is very complicated – even more so on a national scale.

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