Skip to main content

World's happiest nations are...

By Georgia McCafferty, for CNN
September 9, 2013 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
A general view of a canal in the Nyhaven area of Copenhagen in 2009. Denmark is the world's happiest nation, according to the <a href='http://unsdsn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/WorldHappinessReport2013_online.pdf' target='_blank'>2013 World Happiness Report</a> from Columbia University's Earth Institute. The report was issued in September. A general view of a canal in the Nyhaven area of Copenhagen in 2009. Denmark is the world's happiest nation, according to the 2013 World Happiness Report from Columbia University's Earth Institute. The report was issued in September.
HIDE CAPTION
No. 1 - Denmark
No. 2 - Norway
No. 3 - Switzerland
No. 4 - The Netherlands
No. 5 - Sweden
No. 6 - Canada
No 7 - Finland
No. 8 - Austria
No. 9 - Iceland
No. 10 - Australia
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden are the world's happiest countries
  • Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Benin and Togo are the least satisfied with their lives
  • The United States ranked 17th, while the UK was 22nd of the 156 nations surveyed
  • Egypt had the greatest fall of happiness levels in the past five years, the report said

(CNN) -- Those looking for greater happiness and satisfaction in life should head to northern Europe, but steer clear of Egypt and countries worst hit by the eurozone crisis, according to the 2013 World Happiness Report released Monday by Columbia University's Earth Institute.

Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden are the world's happiest countries, according to the survey of 156 countries. Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Benin and Togo -- all nations in Sub-Saharan Africa -- are the least satisfied with their lives, the report said.

The United States came in at number 17 in the world in terms of overall happiness, but it still lags behind Canada (6), Australia (10), Israel (11) the United Arab Emirates (14) and Mexico (16), according to the Earth Institute.

The report ranks the United Kingdom as the 22nd happiest country in the world. Other major nations included Germany (26), Japan (43), Russia (68) and China (93).

Life's ups and downs

The global survey was conducted between 2010 and 2012 and follows the Earth Institute's first rankings released last year. While "the world has become a slightly happier and more generous place over the past five years," economic and political upheavals have resulted in greatly reduced levels of well being for some nations, the report said.

Rankings for Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain fell dramatically because of the impact of the eurozone crisis, while Egypt, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia registered large falls in the wake of recent political and civil turmoil.

Egypt had the greatest fall in happiness levels. On a scale of 1 to 10 -- with 10 rated as happiest -- Egypt averaged 4.3 in 2012, compared to 5.4 in 2007.

"We expect, and find, that these losses are far greater than would follow simply from lower incomes," the report said, noting that the greatest single factor reducing happiness levels in these countries was a reduction in people's perceived "freedom to make key life choices."

Angola, Zimbabwe and Albania experienced the largest increases across all the countries surveyed.

"On a regional basis, by far the largest gains in life evaluations in terms of the prevalence and size of the increases have been in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Sub-Saharan Africa", the report said. Reduced levels of corruption also contributed to the rise.

Governments seeking to improve the happiness of their populations should spend a higher proportion of their health budgets on mental illness, which is the single biggest "determinant of misery" in countries assessed, the study authors said.

"People can be unhappy for many reasons -- from poverty to unemployment to family breakdown to physical illness," the report said. "But in any particular society, chronic mental illness is a highly influential cause of misery.

"If we want a happier world, we need a completely new deal on mental health."

Gross National Happiness

The 2013 World Happiness Report comes on the back of a growing global movement calling for governments and policy makers to reduce their emphasis on achieving economic growth and focus on policies that can improve people's overall well-being.

An idea first proposed in 1972 by Bhutan's former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the concept of "happiness economics" has now gained traction in many countries across the world, including the UK, Germany and South Korea. The UN first encouraged member countries to measure and use the happiness of their people to guide public policies in July 2011.

"It is important to balance economic measures of societal progress with measures of subjective well-being to ensure that economic progress leads to broad improvements across life domains, not just greater economic capacity," the report said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Explore CNN's interactive that explains ISIS' roots, what it controls, and where its support comes from.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 2010 GMT (0410 HKT)
In his first-ever interview as the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani defended his country against allegations of funding terrorism.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0920 GMT (1720 HKT)
The U.S. and several Arab nations carried out airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, intensifying the campaign against the militant group.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
A mysterious Chicago fire and possible suicide attempt causes massive disruption in the U.S.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 1503 GMT (2303 HKT)
The North Korean leader hasn't been seen for weeks, leading to speculation that he is in poor health.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0154 GMT (0954 HKT)
Haider al-Abadi hopes airstrikes don't lead to "of another terrorist element" instead of ISIS.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
The United States couldn't do it on its first try. Neither could the Soviets.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Emma Watson lent her name and her glittery profile to the cause of feminism at the United Nations.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1529 GMT (2329 HKT)
CNN's Nima Elbagir reflects on a harrowing trip to Liberia where she covered the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Contrary to public opinion, rats can actually save lives -- Apopo's rats have actually saved thousands.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT