Mar 29, 2021

World’s 20 happiest countries revealed: Can you guess where Australia ranked?

Senior woman with retro camera

The 2021 World Happiness Report is out – and what a strange year it has been to measure happiness. 

The UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which compiles the report, focussed its research this year on how people all over the world fared during the pandemic.

The devastating outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 saw almost 3 million people die, resulting in a nearly 4% increase in the annual number of deaths worldwide – and furthermore, having serious economic and social consequences.

People have also been living with greater economic insecurity, anxiety, disruption, stress, and challenges to both physical and mental health.

It has been a very tough year around the globe.

But there has also been evidence of great resilience, which helps us understand what makes us cope when times are tough, and what we should aspire to when we think about creating better societies.

Emphasis on the impact of emotions

The World Happiness Report is compiled using data from The Gallup World Poll, which measures wellbeing based on life evaluations, positive emotions and negative emotions.

In the 2021 report, more emphasis was placed on examining emotions to determine the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives. 

Emotions changed more than life satisfaction. For example, the data revealed a 10% increase in the number of people who said they were worried or sad the previous day. 

However, emotions also recovered quickly when conditions began returning to normal.

A measure of mental health declined 7.7% over the year, and the number of mental health problems reported climbed 47% higher.

Feelings of connectedness declined, and loneliness increased as physical distancing and self-isolation became necessary. Factors that helped people maintain a sense of connectedness included gratitude, grit, prior connections, volunteering, exercise, having a pet, and having activities that provided ‘flow’.

Not being able to work also had a negative effect on wellbeing. Countries with stronger worker protections saw less decline in wellbeing.

Trust: A ‘happiness bonus’

It also emerged that trust has an associated ‘happiness bonus’ in populations. Countries with high levels of trust in public institutions and in fellow citizens (survey participants were asked about the likelihood of someone returning a lost wallet containing cash) tended to fare better during COVID-19. 

This finding is consistent with studies showing communities with high levels of trust are more resilient in a crisis. 

Female leaders helped

Factors that helped a country successfully manage COVID-19 included income equality, social trust, whether the country had learned from its experience with SARS and, interestingly, whether the head of government was a woman.

Humans are resilient

The report also reveals plenty of examples of resilience in the face of adversity.

Surveys in France between April and May 2020 showed that those who had low exposure to COVID-19 experienced increased health and wellbeing during quarantine, regardless of their income level.

And surveys of adults from the US and the UK conducted between February to May 2020,  showed no change in life satisfaction.

Owning a pet during the pandemic had a significant protective effect for mental health and against loneliness. In a study of nearly 6,000 adults in the UK between 16 April and 31 May 2020, those who owned a pet reported smaller increases in loneliness than those who did not own a pet, regardless of the type of pet. 

Similar results were found in a survey of Australian adults, although owning a dog was more protective against loneliness than owning a cat. (Sorry, cat lovers.)

So, where does Australia rank?

Australia came in at 12th place, a slight fall from 11th position last year.

Interestingly, overall, country rankings did not change significantly, despite the global turmoil.

Finland remained in the top spot for the fourth consecutive year, while Norway slipped from 5th to 8th in the 2021 list. The UK fell five places to 18th, while Germany climbed 10 places to 7th. 

Finland benefited from low rates of economic contraction due to COVID-19 and lower rates of worry about losing work hours. Finland also rates the highest in the world for its population living well into old age, which will be of interest to HelloCare readers.

The largest move up the rankings came from Croatia, which rose from 79th in 2020 to 23rd on the list this year.

World’s 20 happiest countries

  1. Finland
  2. Iceland
  3. Denmark
  4. Switzerland
  5. Netherlands
  6. Sweden
  7. Germany
  8. Norway
  9. New Zealand
  10.  Austria
  11.  Israel
  12.  Australia
  13.  Ireland
  14.  United States
  15.  Canada
  16.  Czech Republic
  17.  Belgium
  18.  United Kingdom
  19.  Taiwan
  20. France

CarePage’s Happy Life Index enables aged care providers to measure the happiness of staff, families and residents in aged care homes. To register your interest, or find out more, please visit www.happylifeindex.com.au

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