Thursday, February 22, 2024
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Finland leads for smiles, fifth year running

Azlan Othman

Finland took the top spot as the happiest place in the world for the fifth year in a row, surpassing other top 10 countries, the World Happiness Report said.

Denmark occupied second place, with Iceland up from fourth place last year to third this year. Switzerland is fourth, followed by the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Sweden, Norway, Israel and New Zealand rounded off the top 10. The next five are Austria, Australia, Ireland, Germany and Canada.

This marks a substantial fall for Canada, which was fifth 10 years ago. The rest of the top 20 include the United States at 16th (up from 19th last year), the United Kingdom and the Czechia still in 17th and 18th, followed by Belgium at 19th and France at 20th, its highest ranking yet.

In Southeast Asia, Singapore secured the top spot as the happiest nation, ranking 27th. This was followed by the Philippines (60th place), Thailand (61st), Vietnam (77th), Indonesia (87th), Laos (95th), Cambodia (114th) and Myanmar (126th). Brunei Darussalam was not included in the survey.

Afghanistan held the last position at 146th in the list, with Lebanon (145th), Zimbabwe (144th), Rwanda (143rd), and Botswana (142nd).

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the World Happiness Report, issued annually by the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). The report ranks 150 countries (146 in 2022) in the world.

The index is calculated using people’s self-reported happiness as well as economic and social data and, based on a three-year average, assigns a happiness score in the range zero to 10.

This year, it also used data from social media to compare people’s emotions before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Happiness Report reached more than nine million people in 2021. Since it was first published, the report has been based on two key ideas: that happiness or life evaluation can be measured through opinion surveys, and that they can identify key determinants of well-being and thereby explain the patterns of life evaluation across countries.

This information, in turn, can help countries to craft policies aimed at achieving happier societies.

The report stated that “over the past 10 years, life evaluations rose by more than a full point on the zero to 10 scale in 15 countries and fell by that amount or more in eight countries”.

According to the report, the 10 countries with the largest gains from 2008-2012 to 2019-2021 were, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Togo, Bahrain, Latvia, Benin, Guinea, and Armenia.

The 10 countries with the largest drops were Lebanon, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Jordan, Zambia, India, Mexico, and Botswana.

President of SDSN and Director of the Earth Institute’s Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University Jeffrey Sachs said, “A decade ago, governments around the world expressed the desire to put happiness at the heart of the global development agenda, and they adopted a UN General Assembly resolution for that purpose.

“The World Happiness Report grew out of that worldwide determination to find the path to greater global well-being. Now, at a time of pandemic and war, we need such an effort more than ever.

“And the lesson of the World Happiness Report over the years is that social support, generosity to one another, and honesty in government are crucial for well-being. World leaders should take heed of this.

“Politics should be directed as the great sages long ago insisted: to the well-being of the people, not the power of the rulers,” he said.

This year’s report comes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended lives around the world.

“COVID-19 is the biggest health crisis we’ve seen in more than a century,” said John Helliwell of Vancouver School of Economics, University of British Columbia.

“Now that we have two years of evidence, we are able to assess not just the importance of benevolence and trust, but to see how they have contributed to well-being during the pandemic.

“We found during 2021 remarkable worldwide growth in all three acts of kindness monitored in the Gallup World Poll. Helping strangers, volunteering, and donations in 2021 were strongly up in every part of the world, reaching levels almost 25 per cent above their pre-pandemic prevalence.

“This surge of benevolence, which was especially great for the helping of strangers, provides powerful evidence that people respond to help others in need, creating in the process more happiness for the beneficiaries, good examples for others to follow, and better lives for themselves,” he said.

Meanwhile, Director of the Wellbeing Research Centre at University of Oxford Jan-Emmanuel De Neve noted that “at the very bottom of the ranking we find societies that suffer from conflict and extreme poverty, notably we find that people in Afghanistan evaluate the quality of their own lives as merely 2.4 out of 10.

“This presents a stark reminder of the material and immaterial damage that war does to its many victims and the fundamental importance of peace and stability for human well-being”.