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Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin appears after a meeting with Spanish President Pedro Sánchez on January 26, 2022 in Madrid, Spain.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin appears after a meeting with Spanish President Pedro Sánchez on January 26, 2022 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo: Europa Press via Getty Images)

Social Democracy Lands Finland Atop World Happiness Ranking

"World leaders should take heed," said economist Jeffrey Sachs. "Politics should be directed as the great sages long ago insisted: to the well-being of the people, not the power of the rulers."

Kenny Stancil

Finland is the happiest country in the world, followed by Denmark and Iceland, with other Scandinavian social democracies Sweden and Norway not far behind.

"Social support, generosity to one another, and honesty in government are crucial for well-being."

That's according to the latest World Happiness Report 2022, released Friday for the 10th year in a row by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).

Rankings are based on opinion surveys that people from nearly 150 nations around the globe completed from 2019 to 2021. Analysts say that data from the Gallup World Poll and other sources reveals "key determinants of well-being," which countries can use "to craft policies aimed at achieving happier societies."

As SDSN president and report co-editor Jeffrey Sachs explained in a statement: "A decade ago, governments around the world expressed the desire to put happiness at the heart of the global development agenda, and they adopted a U.N. General Assembly resolution for that purpose. The World Happiness Report grew out of that worldwide determination to find the path to greater global well-being."

"Now, at a time of pandemic and war, we need such an effort more than ever," said Sachs, who also directs the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University's Earth Institute. "And the lesson of the World Happiness Report over the years is that social support, generosity to one another, and honesty in government are crucial for well-being."

According to the report, the global public health emergency, now in its third year, has "demonstrated the crucial importance of trust for human well-being. Deaths from Covid-19 during 2020 and 2021 have been markedly lower in those countries with higher trust in public institutions and where inequality is lower."

For the fifth consecutive year, Finland—where union density remains relatively high and the welfare state comparatively robust—was identified as the happiest country in the world. Denmark, where workers' rights and the provision of public goods are also high priorities, maintained its position in second place, while Iceland, which in recent years has experimented with a four-day work week, moved up from fourth place to third.

Coming in fourth was Switzerland, followed by the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Sweden, Norway, Israel, and New Zealand rounded out the top ten.

According to Oxfam, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has killed or contributed to the deaths of more than 19.6 million people worldwide, with most fatalities occurring in low- and lower-middle-income countries.

"This presents a stark reminder of the material and immaterial damage that war does to its many victims and the fundamental importance of peace and stability for human well-being."

Despite this grim global situation, report co-editor John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia said that two years' worth of evidence allowed SDSN to assess how "benevolence and trust... have contributed to well-being during the pandemic."

"We found during 2021 remarkable worldwide growth in all three acts of kindness monitored in the Gallup World Poll," said Helliwell. "Helping strangers, volunteering, and donations in 2021 were strongly up in every part of the world, reaching levels almost 25% above their pre-pandemic prevalence."

"This surge of benevolence, which was especially great for the helping of strangers, provides powerful evidence that people respond to help others in need, creating in the process more happiness for the beneficiaries, good examples for others to follow, and better lives for themselves," he added.

Of the 146 countries surveyed, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Lesotho, Botswana, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, and Afghanistan ranked the lowest for happiness.

"At the very bottom of the ranking we find societies that suffer from conflict and extreme poverty," said Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, director of Oxford University's Well-Being Research Center and a co-editor of the report. "Notably we find that people in Afghanistan evaluate the quality of their own lives as merely 2.4 out of 10. This presents a stark reminder of the material and immaterial damage that war does to its many victims and the fundamental importance of peace and stability for human well-being."

Not long after the 16th-ranked United States withdrew from Afghanistan last August following a 20-year military assault that killed hundreds of thousands and cost trillions of dollars, U.S. President Joe Biden last month seized $7 billion worth of assets held by the war-torn and poverty-stricken nation's central bank—putting millions of Afghans on the verge of starvation.

"World leaders should take heed," said Sachs. "Politics should be directed as the great sages long ago insisted: to the well-being of the people, not the power of the rulers."


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