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As Coronavirus Pandemic Exposes Failures in US, Social Democratic Nordic Countries Again Deemed World's Happiest

"Even in less happy times, high societal trust, caring for each other and investment in well-being remain important cornerstones in our society."

Residents of the Nordberg home for the elderly take part in outdoor activities during the coronavirus pandemic in Oslo, Norway. (Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

An annual report on happiness levels in countries around the world points to a major factor which for the eighth year in a row has made Nordic countries among the happiest in the world—and the absence of which has made for greater levels of unhappiness in the U.S., particularly as the country faces the coronavirus pandemic.

While countries including Finland—which placed at number one for the third year in a row—Denmark, and Norway are known for low levels of income and gender inequality and strong social welfare systems which invest in residents' healthcare and education rather than prioritizing corporate profits in those sectors, the authors of the 2020 World Happiness Report summarized their findings about these countries by pointing not to individual benefits but to high levels of overall public trust.

"This idea that we're all in this together. That's really being tested. We're going to have to find that common sense of shared responsibility to pull through the crisis."
—Jeffrey Sachs, United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network

While many Finns may not outwardly express feelings of happiness, Maria Cramer wrote at the New York Times Friday, the Finnish government and culture places great value on engendering a trustful environment. By and large, the report suggests, people in Finland believe taking care of one another is important. 

The people who live the happiest lives "do trust each other and care about each other, and that's what fundamentally makes for a better life," John Helliwell, an editor of the World Happiness Report, told the Times.

According to the report, 91 percent of Finns trust their president—compared with recent polling in the U.S. which showed just 37% of Americans trust President Donald Trump to tell the truth about the coronavirus pandemic, which has spread to more than 16,000 people in the U.S. and has killed more than 200. 

The U.S. is lagging behind other countries in testing people for the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, and healthcare professionals on the front lines of the crisis are reporting severe shortages of medical equipment. At a press conference Friday, Trump chastised a reporter who asked the president what he would say to millions Americans fearing for their jobs and financial stability as well as their health and that of their loved ones.

As Common Dreams reported, several members of the Republican Party responded to reports last month that the coronavirus pandemic would grow worse imminently not by warning the public, but by selling off millions of dollars in stocks to avoid losing money in the coming market crash. 

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"Even in less happy times, high societal trust, caring for each other and investment in well-being remain important cornerstones in our society," tweeted Helena Jauhiainen, a Finnish diplomat.

The U.S. placed at number 18 on the World Happiness Report this year, one spot ahead of its place in 2019 but still several below its ranking in the first report, released in 2012. The country was ranked number 11 that year.

"People are happier when they trust each other and their shared institutions," the report reads.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which publishes the annual report, called on the U.S. government and Americans to learn from the findings about Finland and other Nordic countries as the U.S. fights the coronavirus crisis.

"We need a lot of shared action," Sachs told the Times. "It's part of what's deteriorated in the United States. This idea that we're all in this together. That's really being tested. We're going to have to find that common sense of shared responsibility to pull through the crisis."

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