When asked to imagine the happiest country in the world, usually people envision a tropical paradise somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, complete with infinite piña coladas and a small army of cabana boys and girls instead of a military. (Or maybe that's just me.) Ironically, according to the United Nations' annual World Happiness Report, the actual happiest country in the world is... pretty much nothing like that, actually. Despite the tragic lack of balmy weather, Switzerland took the top spot, followed by Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and Canada. Who knew that frigid temperatures and universal healthcare would make such a great combination?
If you're wondering where the United States is on the list, you're probably going to need to lower your expectations first. In keeping with the trend of the past two years, the U.S. didn't even crack the top 10, although it did improve on last year's standing of number 17. This year, the U.S. was placed at a respectable 15. So what's changed? Most likely, it's a combination of numerous factors, but I just want to point out that 1989, Taylor Swift's ridiculously popular (and also amazing, duh) piece of synth-pop perfection, was released last year. Is it a coincidence that the U.S. jumped two spots after Swift gifted us with "Shake It Off" and "Blank Space?" I think not.
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The World Happiness rankings are based on a variety of factors, The Guardian reports. Some are national, like the country's gross domestic product (GDP) and life expectancy, while others are more individualistic, such as "generosity, social support, freedom, and level of corruption," according to Live Science, which are measured through the Gallup World Poll. Part of what makes the UN's report so influential, aside from the fact that it's put together by some of the most well-known economists in the world, is that unlike similar studies, it doesn't just judge a country's happiness based on its economic output. The World Happiness Report includes the population's reported life satisfaction as well as national wealth.
For the first time, the report also analysed data by age, gender, and region. Across generations, it found that life quality is strongly influenced by social norms and community support. Essentially, when policies are designed to with that social structure in mind, the population is happier. There's no word on whether this means that governments are going to start giving out free pizza to citizens, because pizza will forever and always equal happiness, but I'm not discounting the possibility.
<img alt="" src="http://24.media.tumblr.com/1f750f29461ee6b58dd5f59e55092bc5/tumblr_n5s6dtnBHk1tolphro1_500.gif" class="article-body-image"/>The report also found that happiness in childhood affects future contentment as well. "A positive outlook during the early stages of life is inherently desirable, but it also lays the foundation for greater happiness during adulthood," Richard Layard told Science Daily. "We must invest early on in the lives of our children so that they grow to become independent, productive and happy adults, contributing both socially and economically."The study's authors hope that the report will inform national policies in the future. "This report gives evidence on how to achieve societal well-being. It's not by money alone," Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, said. "The evidence here will be useful to all countries as they pursue the new Sustainable Development Goals."
The report will be especially useful for the nations who rank at the bottom of the list. The countries with the lowest happiness ranking include Rwanda, Benin, Syria, and Burundi, with Togo coming in last. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are all countries with histories of genocide, warfare, and government corruption.
If you're curious about a country that wasn't discussed here, you can check out the World Happiness Report for yourself. In the meantime, let's hope that Taylor Swift releases a surprise album this year, and the U.S. will move up a spot again for next year's report. You'd better watch out, Mexico, because we're coming for that coveted 14th spot.
(Is it counterproductive to get competitive about a happiness ranking? Probably.)
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