HELSINKI, FINLAND –
Good humor may seem scarce as the world suffers a global pandemic, but United Nations experts on Friday declared Finland the happiest nation in the world for the third consecutive year.
World Happiness Report researchers asked people from 156 countries to assess their own levels of happiness and took measures such as GDP, social support, personal freedom and levels of corruption into account to give each nation a happiness score.
As in each of the seven previous reports, the Nordic countries dominated the top ten, along with countries like Switzerland, New Zealand and Austria.
Luxembourg also reached tenth place for the first time this year.
The happiest countries are "where people feel a sense of belonging, where they trust and enjoy each other and their shared institutions," said John Helliwell, one of the report's authors, in a statement.
"There is also more resilience, because shared trust reduces the burden of hardship and therefore reduces inequality in well-being."
Meanwhile, the countries at the bottom of this year's ranking are those affected by violent conflicts and extreme poverty, with Zimbabwe, South Sudan and Afghanistan ranked as the least happy countries in the world.
Finland's first place on the list of congratulations had already been seen with raised eyebrows in the country, whose population of 5.5 million avoids spontaneous displays of joy, valuing the tranquility and solitude of the country's vast forests and thousands of lakes.
The long dark winters in the north of the country were said to be behind high levels of alcoholism and suicide, but a decade-long public health campaign helped cut rates by more than half.
Finnish residents enjoy high quality of life, security and public services, with inequality and poverty rates among the lowest in all OECD countries.
Data from this year's World Happiness Report were collected in 2018 and 2019 and are therefore unaffected by the widespread restrictions imposed by many countries to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
However, the report's authors predict that the blocking conditions in which many residents of the world are now living could, paradoxically, increase happiness in the future.
"The most frequent explanation seems to be that people are pleasantly surprised at the willingness of their neighbors and institutions to work together to help each other," said the team on the report's website.
Across Europe, isolated people come out onto their balconies to applaud health professionals who continue to provide assistance during the coronavirus crisis, and local aid schemes have emerged to provide vital supplies to people unable to leave their homes.
But the report's authors cautioned that where a nation's social fabric is not strong, "then fear, disappointment and anger increase the happiness costs of a disaster."