Denmark overtook Switzerland to reclaim the mantle of the world’s happiest place, according to a report released on Wednesday, with Australia also finishing in the top 10.
The World Happiness Report, prepared by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University, showed Syria, Afghanistan and eight sub-Saharan countries as the 10 least happy places on earth to live. Burundi came in last.
The report found that inequality was strongly associated with unhappiness – a stark finding for rich countries like the United States, where rising disparities in income, wealth, health and wellbeing have fuelled political discontent.
Denmark topped the list in the first report, in 2012, and again in 2013, but it was displaced by Switzerland last year. In this year’s ranking, Denmark was followed by Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden. Most are fairly homogeneous nations with strong social safety nets.
At the bottom of the list of more than 150 countries was Burundi, where a violent political crisis broke out last year. Burundi was preceded by Syria, Togo, Afghanistan, Benin, Rwanda, Guinea, Liberia, Tanzania and Madagascar. All of those nations are poor, and many have been destabilised by war, disease or both.
The US came in at 13, Britain at 23, France at 32, and Italy at 50.
“There is a very strong message for my country, the United States, which is very rich, has gotten a lot richer over the last 50 years, but has gotten no happier,” Professor Jeffrey Sachs, head of the SDSN, said.
“The message for the United States is clear. For a society that just chases money, we are chasing the wrong things. Our social fabric is deteriorating, social trust is deteriorating, faith in government is deteriorating,” he said.
Of the world’s most populous nations, China was 83rd, ahead of India at 118th.
The report, now in its fourth edition, ranks 157 countries by happiness levels using factors such as per capita gross domestic product and healthy years of life expectancy.
It also rates “having someone to count on in times of trouble” and freedom from corruption in government and business.
The survey showed that three countries in particular, Ireland, Iceland and Japan, were able to maintain their happiness levels despite external shocks such as the post-2007 economic crisis and the 2011 earthquake because of social support and solidarity.
Professor Sachs pointed to Costa Rica, which came in 14th and ahead of many wealthier countries, as an example of a healthy, happy society although it is not an economic powerhouse.