Living in a climate of cloudy skies and long winters doesn’t seem like a recipe for happiness. But don’t tell that to folks in Finland.
For the fourth straight year, the Nordic country is home to the world’s most contented people, according to the World Happiness Report 2021.
The latest annual report — published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network — has an added twist: Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the study authors issued two rankings.
The first ranking is the usual one based on the average of the past three years of life evaluation surveys taken by Gallup.
The study authors were not surprised that Finland finished first in the standard ranking, given how well it has performed in previous years. They noted that Finland also ranks high in measures of mutual trust, which the authors say helped protect lives and livelihoods during the pandemic.
The top 10 countries this year are:
- New Zealand
The United States took the No. 19 spot in the usual ranking.
The second ranking looked at how the pandemic impacted subjective well-being during 2020. In an announcement, John Helliwell, one of the report editors and a professor at Canada’s University of British Columbia, noted one unexpected finding in this category:
“Surprisingly there was not, on average, a decline in well-being when measured by people’s own evaluation of their lives. One possible explanation is that people see COVID-19 as a common, outside threat affecting everybody and that this has generated a greater sense of solidarity and fellow-feeling.”
In the second, 2020-specific ranking, Finland also took the top spot. The top 10 nations in this ranking were:
- New Zealand
The U.S. took the No. 14 spot in this ranking.
The study also tried to answer a puzzling question: Why were pandemic death rates so much higher in the Americas and Europe than in East Asia, Australasia and Africa?
Their research indicated several factors that may have played a role, including:
- The age of a country’s population
- Whether the country was an island
- Proximity to other highly infected countries
They also found that cultural and educational differences played a key role, including:
- Confidence in public institutions
- Knowledge from previous epidemics
- Income inequality
- Whether the head of government was a woman
- Whether lost wallets were likely to be returned
In the press release, report team member Shun Wang said:
“The East Asian experience shows that stringent government policies not only control COVID-19 effectively, but also buffer the negative impact of daily infections on people’s happiness.”