Switzerland, Iceland and Norway followed closely, according to the World Happiness Report 2016. The report, which is created by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations, highlights how content UN member countries are based on earnings, living standards, employment, mental health and family stability — the findings of which help policymakers create more fulfilled societies. Report editor Prof. John Helliwell, of the University of British Columbia and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, explains the meaning behind the results.
What are the main sources of happiness this year?
– There are still very large differences among countries in their average happiness, as well as in the distribution of happiness within each country and region. Six key factors continue to account for most of the differences between the most and least happy countries: income per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, perceived freedom to make life choices, corruption and generosity.
What evaluations can you make in regard to the top 10 countries?
– Average life evaluations in the top 10 countries are more than twice as high as in the bottom: 10 and 7.4 compared to 3.4. Of the 4 point difference, 3 points can be traced to differences in the six key factors: 1.13 points from the GDP per capita gap, 0.8 due to differences in social support, 0.5 to differences in healthy life expectancy, 0.3 to differences in freedom, 0.2 to differences in corruption, and 0.13 to differences in generosity. Income differences are more than one-third of the total explanation because of the six factors, income is the most unequally distributed among countries. GDP per capita is 25 times higher in the top 10 than in the bottom 10 countries.
What has changed in the global rankings of the happiest countries this year?
– The update finds the top 10 countries to be the same as in the 2015 report, although their ordering has changed once again.
Why is that?
– The rankings show both consistency and change. The consistency at the top reflects mainly that life evaluations are based on life circumstances that usually evolve slowly, and that are all at high levels in the top countries. The year-to-year changes are also mode-rated by the averaging of data from three years of surveys in order to provide large sample sizes. However, when there have been long-lasting changes in the quality of life, they have led to large changes in life evaluation levels and rankings. as shown by the many countries with large gains or losses from 2005-2007 and 2013-2015.
In last year’s report there were specific examples of how policymakers could encourage happier societies. Did you discover improvements in this case?
– We continue to find fresh evidence that tighter social fabrics, as measured by trust and social connections, provide much greater resilience in the face of economic shocks and natural disasters.
What else is new in the 2016 report?
– There are two main new findings in this report. First, inequalities in the distribution of well-being within countries have been measured, with most countries showing increased inequality of happiness from 2005 – 2011 and between 2012 – 2015. These increases have in turn led to lower average well-being in the countries with increased inequality. Second, the report provides some first indicator measures for the newly agreed Sustainable Development Goals for 2015 – 2030, and shows preliminary evidence that better performance in attaining these goals supports greater happiness in the countries with better SDG performance.
How will happiness evolve in the future?
– Improvements are possible, especially because happiness can be increased simply by changing the ways in which people work, and live together, without imposing new demands on scarce resources. For example, doing something for others usually increases the happiness of both the giver and the receiver. Even natural disasters can be handled with little loss of happiness where societies are already sufficiently cooperative. However, the reverse is also possible where the social fabric is weaker, as shown by cases where economic crises, natural disasters and warfare have led to further breakdown in the social fabric and much reduced happiness.