Norway officially the world’s happiest country

According to the World Happiness Report 2017 Norway has emerged as the world’s happiest country for 2017. The report, which was released on 20 March, now officially known as World Happiness Day, sees Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and Finland round out the top five happiest countries.

To measure happiness the report’s authors conducted “Analysis of the levels, changes and determinants among and within nations [which] continues to be based chiefly on individual life evaluations, roughly 1,000 in each of more than 150 countries.” Each individual evaluated was asked the “Cantrill ladder question: “Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?

Norway’s overall score was 7.537 and its jump in the ranking from 4th to 1st was achieved despite the global drop in oil prices. The authors comment that “It is sometimes said that Norway achieves and maintains its high happiness not because of its oil wealth, but in spite of it.” They add that as a result of Norway’s decision to produce oil slowly and invest its proceeds in the future rather than just in the present it has “insulated itself from the boom and bust cycle of many other resource-rich countries.” However, to do this successfully “Requires high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance” which are all factors readily present in Norway.

While there have been some positional changes the top 10 countries from the 2016 ranking have not changed. For example, the Netherlands (now ranked 6th) and Canada (now ranked 7th) have traded places.

At the other end of the scale the least happiest country for 2017 was the Central African Republic with a score of 2.693. Burundi (2.905), Tanzania (3.349), Syria (3.462) and Rwanda (3.471) close out the bottom five. It is well-know that Syria is currently embroiled in a civil war which will clearly upon the happiness level of citizens of that country but the other four are all sub-Saharan African countries. For Rwanda and Tanzania, the authors point out that these countries “Have anomalous scores, in the sense that their predicted values, which are based on the performance of the six key variables, are high enough to rank them much higher than do the survey answers.”

Chapter four entitled ‘Waiting for Happiness in Africa’s attempts to answer the questions “Are the people in Africa really among the least happy in the world?” and “If African countries do have a ‘happiness deficit’, what are the prospects of achieving happiness in the near future?” Africa simply cannot continue to be ignored because it is home to about 16% of the world’s population and includes 54 countries which is the largest number of a nation states on a single continent. As a result, given Africa’s diversity and tumultuous history as a continent, the authors point out that “The quality of life can be observed from a number of different perspectives.” This helps explain why each country’s ranking can be lower or higher than predicted and why there is a great range of rankings across the 44 ranked countries ranging from Algeria (6.355) at the top to the Central African Republic at the bottom.

A common question that may be asked, is why do life evaluations actually matter and why don’t the authors of the report simply use an index of economic, political and/or other factors that are likely to influence a person’s well-being and thus a country’s level of happiness? The authors cite four important reasons in answer to this question.

First, they place great importance on the fact to the evaluations that randomly selected people make of their own lives. Second, using a people-centred approach enables the authors to collect new data and insights which can then be used for further research to determine what can be done to support better lives. Third, because the report’s data is obtained from population based samples for each country it enables the authors to present statistical confidence regions for their estimates. Finally, other ‘happiness’ or ‘well-being’ indexes depend, to an unknown extent, on what the creators of the index deem as being important. By asking people in each country what they deem as important it helps to remove this uncertainty and reduce the risk of anything important being left out.

In addition to the release of the World Happiness Report 2017, a Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Pyramid has been developed and released by United in Diversity (UID) in collaboration with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Business Commission of Sustainable Development. The Pyramid rearranges the 17 SGDs into three tiers – people, ecological and spiritual – which together are “Pivotal in determining true sustainability of the fundamental individual happiness.”

SDGs 1 to 10, which form the base of the pyramid are linked to the harmony of people. SDGs 11 to 15, which form the middle tier of the pyramid concern sustainability, nature and ecological harmony. Finally, on the top level, SDGs 16 and 17, are linked to peace and partnership which relate to spiritual harmony. The Pyramid aligns neatly with the remarks made by António Guterres, the new United Nations Secretary-General, when upon taking office, he said “Humanitarian response, sustainable development and sustaining peace (and partnerships) are three sides of the same triangle.”