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A happy life: The pandemic brought social support & honesty in govt as crucial for well-being of nations

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High levels of income, extensive social benefits, low corruption, well-functioning state institutions, as well as a clear sense of autonomy, freedom, and social trust among citizens, are the most prominent reasons for Nordic happiness.

Ever wondered why measuring happiness is a fairly complicated business. Not for the Nordic countries that top the world data and attract attention for high levels of happiness. They have ranked among the very top performers on renowned well being indices such as the United Nations’ World Happiness Report (WHR), the Human Development Index.

High levels of income, extensive social benefits, low corruption, well-functioning state institutions, as well as a clear sense of autonomy, freedom, and social trust among citizens, are the most prominent reasons for Nordic happiness.

Studies suggest that those who have happier lives are likely to live longer, and better able to meet life’s demands. Published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the World Happiness Report evaluates levels of happiness by taking into account factors such as GDP, social support, personal freedom, and levels of corruption in each nation.

The World Happiness Report 2022’s happiness ranking of 146 countries yet again made Finland rank as number one in the global happiness rankings for the fifth year in a row. Denmark continues to occupy second place, with Iceland up from fourth place last year to third this year. Switzerland is fourth, followed by the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The top 10 are rounded out by Sweden, Norway, Israel and New Zealand. The next five are Austria, Australia, Ireland, Germany and Canada, in that order. This marks a substantial fall for Canada, which was fifth ten years ago. The rest of the top 20 include the United States at 16th (up from 19th last year), the UK and the Czechia still in 17th and 18th, followed by Belgium at 19th and France at 20th, its highest ranking yet. The availability of 15 years of data covering more than 150 countries provides a unique stock-taking opportunity. The three biggest gains were in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. The biggest losses were in Lebanon, Venezuela, and Afghanistan.

India has improved its rank by three spots to acquire 136th position. In 2021, India’s rank was 139. Afghanistan has been ranked as the unhappiest country in the world, at 146th position.

As this year marks the 10th anniversary of the World Happiness Report, which uses global survey data to report how people evaluate their lives in more than 150 countries worldwide, the pandemic has played an important role in not only bringing pain and suffering but increasing social support and benevolence. Since its first publication, the World Happiness Report has been based on two key ideas: that happiness or life evaluation can be measured through opinion surveys, and that we can identify key determinants of well-being and explain the patterns of life evaluation across countries.

An expert on sustainable development, economic development, and the fight against poverty, Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, explains the origin and purpose of the WHR. “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 UN 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. 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. World leaders should take heed. Politics should be directed as the great sages long ago insisted: to the well-being of the people, not the power of the rulers.”

While this year’s report comes at a time when the world is still in the middle of the pandemic and the two years of results goes to show how acts of kindness and trust can impact well-being. Like the help needed at the time of the crisis and the pandemic, volunteering, helping strangers and donations are true signs of a good life. Data collected over the years is incredibly helpful in analysing the human condition; it also reflects the conditions of societies that go through extreme poverty and conflicts like Afghanistan.

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