Each year, the World Happiness Report measures the happiness perceived by individuals in 137 countries, creating a sort of global ranking of life satisfaction. For several years, the top spot has been held by Finland , a seemingly surprising result, given its long winters and cold temperatures. Beyond the rankings, there is much more to consider behind the positions of countries like Finland or the more mixed results of other countries. In short: can we really measure happiness?
The World Happiness Report: how to measure people’s happiness
The World Happiness Report (WHR) is based on six key metrics intended to help measure the happiness of citizens around the world . The six parameters are per capita income, social assistance, life expectancy at birth, freedom to make life choices, generosity and freedom from corruption. These are indicators intended to provide, according to the intention of the report, a complete picture of the well-being and happiness of nations .
According to economist Jeffrey Sachs, human well-being should be the ultimate goal of politics and ethics. From this perspective, happiness would not be an abstract concept, but a measure based on the impact of material conditions, mental and physical health, personal virtues and good citizenship. In this sense, the WHR can undoubtedly measure the happiness of countries. But is that really all?
Finland is the happiest country in the world: why?
Finland has consistently ranked first in the WHR’s well-being rankings for several years, followed by other Nordic countries such as Denmark and Iceland. So it would be fair to say that Finland is the happiest country in the world following the report’s guidelines. Taking into account the indicators from the World Happiness Report, it is clear that long winters and low temperatures have a minimal impact on the well-being of the population.
On the contrary, it is cultural particularities that take over. The Finnish concept of “Sisu” identifies a combination of determination, perseverance and inner strength, reflecting a mentality that allows one to overcome difficulties through a positive attitude. Of course, a positive attitude cannot be everything or solve all problems, but it is a cultural characteristic that certainly helps.
For a country like Finland in the lead, however, it becomes more difficult to interpret the positions of the following countries in the WHR ranking. For example, Israel is ranked 4th, and several European nations are in the top 20. Next, we find the United Arab Emirates in 26th place, and Taiwan in 27th place. France is 21st. Italy ranks 33rd, between Spain and Kosovo, which seems to be a special result.
Beyond happiness: what the report doesn’t say
The WHR therefore provides valuable information on the overall perception of happiness. However, there are aspects that the report does not fully cover, as discussed in the previous paragraph. As the late sociologist Domenico De Masi pointed out, it is strange that a country that suffers many attacks is among the happiest, while others rank lower. More and more voices are being raised to question the validity of the criteria used by the report : happiness cannot be measured so easily. There are cultural and individual nuances that escape a classification that is intended to be global. Of course, social support and freedom to make life choices are important indicators, but they are not sufficient in themselves. The same can be said of the other parameters that contribute to forming the WHR ranking.
What makes a country happy: WHR and global happiness
Looking at Finland’s first place, it’s tempting to wonder what we can learn from the Finns, but things aren’t that simple. First of all, because the World Happiness Report leaves some elements out, which is inevitable. Second, due to the subtle differences between countries and the statistical criteria chosen. Ultimately, however, the WHR raises important questions about what makes a country happy and what policies are needed to make its citizens happy. In light of the evolving concept of happiness, it is necessary that its measurement also evolves, perhaps adopting a more comprehensive approach to well-being.