‘It’s time to build social trust, not guns or walls’

The 2017 World Happiness Report, released yesterday to coincide with International Day of Happiness, names Norway the happiest country in the world. What lessons can we learn from the nations at the top of the table?

Norway has been named the happiest country in the world, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland. Norway came from fourth place last year to take the top slot in the World Happiness Report – a survey of the state of global happiness.

The report was announced yesterday, on International Day of Happiness, at the UN’s headquarters in New York. Now in its fifth year, the World Happiness Report is produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), an organisation that promotes practical problem solving for sustainable development. It ranks 155 countries by how happy their residents are.

Nations are ranked according to six factors: income, life expectancy, having others to count on for support, freedom, trust in government in regards to corruption and business, and generosity.

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“The World Happiness Report continues to draw global attention around the need to create sound policy for what matters most to people – their wellbeing,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the SDSN. “This report provides evidence that happiness is a result of creating strong social foundations. It’s time to build social trust and healthy lives, not guns or walls. Let’s hold our leaders to this fact.”

The report explains that Norway, and other Nordic countries in the top 10, rank the highest because they realise that “high happiness depends on much more than income”. Countries such as the US experienced a dip in national happiness because of “inequality, distrust and corruption”, said Sachs.

It’s time to build social trust and healthy lives, not guns or walls

Norway also ranks at the top, the report found, because of the country’s investment habits in regards to oil. The nation tends to carefully invest in the future, rather than spending profits quickly.

“By choosing to produce oil deliberately and investing the proceeds for the benefit of future generations, Norway has protected itself from the volatile ups and downs of many other oil-rich economies,” said Prof John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia. “This emphasis on the future over the present is made easier by high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance. All of these are found in Norway, as well as in the other top countries.”

Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden were placed in the second to tenth positions. More than four in five African countries ranked below the midpoint of the happiness scale, making the majority of African citizens statistically ‘unhappy’. Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and Central African Republic fill the bottom slots alongside Syria and Yemen.

In Africa in particular, those at the SDSN suggest that positioning could be attributed to citizens’ “disappointment with different aspects of development under democracy”. The report dedicated a chapter to these findings in particular – Waiting For Happiness in Africa. The report’s authors also highlighted that US citizens have experienced decreasing levels of happiness during the last ten years, despite national income rising.

The report suggests that finance reform, policies to reduce wealth inequality, improving social relations and an increased multiculturalism could help the country’s “social crisis” from worsening.

“Trump’s ban on travel to the US from certain Muslim-majority countries is a continuing manifestation of the exaggerated and irrational fears that grip the nation,” read the report.

The World Happiness Report continues to draw global attention around the need to create sound policy for what matters most to people – their wellbeing

This year’s report also explores the importance of happiness in the workplace, and the effects of mental health on levels of happiness in the US, Indonesia, Britain and Australia. Mental illness is “the biggest single cause of misery” in rich countries, according to Prof Richard Layard, director of the Wellbeing Programme at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance.

The research found that people’s happiness differed considerably due to their employment status, job type and industry, and that employment played a crucial role in people’s mental health and wellbeing.

“People in well-paid roles are happier, but money is only one predictive measure of happiness — work-life balance, job variety and the level of autonomy, are other significant drivers,” said Prof Jan-Emmanuel De Neve from Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. “People tend to spend the majority of their lives working, so it is important to understand the role that employment and unemployment play in shaping happiness.”

Next year’s report will focus on migration.

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