Finland has been named the happiest country in The World Happiness Report 2018, which ranks 156 countries on the wellbeing levels of their residents.
Other Nordic counties dominated the top spots in the report, which is produced annually by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) with support from academics around the world.
Norway, Denmark and Iceland took second, third and fourth place respectively, while Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, and Australia made up the rest of the top 10.
The UK scraped into the top 20, coming in at 19th place overall. If you’re looking to add some extra cheer to your life, it may be time to move to Royal Leamington Spa in the West Midlands, which was previously named the happiest place to live in the UK.
The UN report is based on the pooling of survey results by Gallup International from 2015-2017, looking at how respondents in different countries rated their lives on a scale of 0 to 10. Each survey within the poll typically included 1,000 respondents per year in each country.
The researchers then analysed the perceived happiness levels in each country alongside data on six categories - GDP per capita, social support, healthy life, expectancy, social freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption - to look for potential reasons why people in certain areas may be happier than others.
Finland was given the top score for political rights, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and religious tolerance. The researchers noted all the top countries - particularly the Nordic regions - tended to have high values for income, life expectancy and social support, as well as a sense of freedom, trust and generosity.
For the first time, the happiness report, launched by the UN launched in 2012, includes a section on the happiness of immigrants in each country. Finland was also found to have the happiest immigrant population in the world, based on the available data from 117 countries.
Coco Wu, 23, from China, decided to move to Finland two years ago because it enabled her to access free university fees. “The part I like the most about living in Finland is the freedom. I have a lot of freedom to decide what to study, I can argue with my professors, people listen to you and respect your opinion. And the society is actually very tolerant to foreigners,” she told HuffPost UK.
“I think people in Finland feel happy because they understand the essence of life can be very simple. They can enjoy the simplicity of life and don’t greed for more. The relationships between people in Finnish society are also simple - not as competitive as in China. And of course, the living condition is very good here. It’s a very equal society, with high income and high tax. Gender equality is also very high.”
Commenting on the report, Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, based in Denmark, told HuffPost UK: “The Nordic ‘secret’ to happiness lies in their ability to limit misery – that is, people who report very low levels of happiness.
“When Finland is called the happiest country in the world, it is because Finns have the highest average score compared to the other populations in the study. It does not mean that Finland is a Utopia, nor that Finns are never unhappy. It just means the Finish average is relatively higher, as they have fewer people with very low levels of happiness compared to the UK or the US. You could also say that Finland is the least unhappy country in the world,” he said.
By measuring wealth as GDP per capita, Wiking pointed out Finland is actually significantly ‘poorer’ than the other top countries. “An interesting comparison could be made between Finland and the UK. These countries share a very similar level of GDP per capita, but Finland converts its wealth into wellbeing in a much better way than the UK,” he said.
“In Finland, paying some of the highest taxes in the world - for which there is wide public support for - is seen as an investments in quality of life for all. Free health care and free university education goes a long way when it comes to happiness.”
While the UK missed out on a space in the top 10 in the UN report, things aren’t all bad if you live here. The most recent data from The Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests happiness levels are increasing, albeit marginally. The report, released last month, said when ONS began measuring happiness in 2011, the average happiness score was 7.29 out of 10. However in 2017 it had risen to 7.52.
People in England were found to be driving the change between 2016 and 2017. Interestingly women reported higher life satisfaction, worthwhile and happiness ratings compared with men - but they also reported higher levels of anxiety.