In the midst of the global health crisis caused by the new coronavirus (Covid-19), Finland has been designated the world’s happiest country by the United Nations, for the third year running.
Denmark is second, Switzerland third and Belgium 20th in the world rankings, according to the UN’s World Happiness Report for 2020, published on Friday. Its publication coincided with the United Nations’ World Happiness Day, celebrated each year on 20 March.
War-torn Afghanistan is in last place, just behind South Sudan, also wracked by armed conflict.
The methodology used for the report entailed asking a sampling of persons from 156 countries to answer a series of questions on their perception of their quality of life on a scale of 0 to 10. Measurements taken into account include GDP, social support, individual freedom and corruption levels.
As in the previous seven reports, the Nordic countries top the rankings, with Iceland, Norway and Sweden in 4th, 5th and 7th place respectively. They are joined in the top 10 by the Netherlands, 6th, New Zealand, 8th and Austria, 10th. France has moved up one place, from 24th in 2019 to 23rd.
The happiest countries are those “where people feel a sense of belonging, where they trust and enjoy each another,” report co-author John Helliwell is quoted as saying in a press release. “Shared trust reduces the burden of hardships and thereby lessens the inequality of well-being.”
Finland’s ranking may come as a surprise outside the nation of 5.5 million inhabitants that still has the image of a country of dark, severe winters and taciturn people prone to suicide. However, its population enjoys an exceptional quality of life coupled with a high safety level, and public services that are among the best in the world. Moreover, its level of inequality is one of the lowest among the OECD countries.
The 2020 report is based on data collected in 2018, so it does not take into account the exceptional measures that many countries have implemented to stem the spread of the coronavirus. However, its authors note that the lockdown conditions in which many people now live could, paradoxically, enhance their happiness in future.
The most frequent explanation seems to be that people are pleasantly surprised by the will of their neighbours and institutions to work together and help one another, according to the researchers. However, they warned, when a nation’s social fabric is weak, fear, disappointment and anger take over.