World’s happiest countries in 2024

Mar 20: The World Happiness Report is out, and once again Nordic countries are humming along with the highest scores. The No. 1 country, Finland, has held onto its top ranking for seven years straight.

This year’s report is the first to include separate rankings by age group, and it brings bad news about life satisfaction among young people in some parts of the world.

Happiness has dropped so sharply among the young in North America that young people there are now less happy than the old. Those low scores helped push the United States out of the top 20 on the overall list for the first time since the report was first published in 2012.

But the US and other countries dropping in rank was also because other nations – especially several in Eastern Europe – had welcome gains in happiness.

The happiest countries

Finland is once again the world’s happiest country.

That’s according to the annual report that marks the United Nations International Day of Happiness on March 20.

The report draws on global survey data from people in more than 140 countries. Countries are ranked on happiness based on their average life evaluations over the three preceding years, in this case, 2021 to 2023. The report is a partnership of Gallup, the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and an editorial board.

The cool-weather nation of Finland — where the northern lights dance in winter and the summer sun can shine all night long — has a lot figured out when it comes to the right social conditions for happiness.

The survey asks each participant to score their life as a whole, considering what they value, said John Helliwell, emeritus professor of economics at the Vancouver School of Economics, University of British Columbia, and a founding editor of the World Happiness Report.

“And you find out Finland’s pretty rich in all of those things like wallets being returned if they’re dropped in the street, people helping each other day in and day out, very high quality and universally distributed health and education opportunities — so everyone more or less comes out of the starting gate the same,” he said.

He also noted that Finland has happy immigrants, “so it’s something that they’re prepared to share with newcomers.”

The report looks at six key variables to help explain life evaluations: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity and perceptions of corruption.

Finland’s Nordic neighbours also earned reliably high scores with Denmark (No. 2), Iceland (No. 3) and Sweden (No. 4) in the top five, and Norway (No. 7) comfortably ranking in the top 10.

Given the war with Hamas, Israel may come as a surprise at No. 5, although the country has been in the top 10 since 2022. The report’s authors point out that its rankings are based on a three-year average, which often mutes the effect of “cataclysmic events happening during a particular year.”

And the timing of the survey obviously plays a role when there’s a crisis. The survey in Israel was conducted after the Hamas attack on October 7, but before much of the ensuing warfare. So while life evaluations fell sharply, those scores only accounted for a third of the average.

The report, which relies heavily on the Gallup World Poll, also includes a ranking for Palestine at No. 103, although its statehood is not widely recognized. The poll was conducted in the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank before the events of October 7.

The Netherlands (No. 6), Luxembourg (No. 8), Switzerland (No. 9) and Australia (No. 10) round out the top 10.

The United States drops out of the top 20

The United States (No. 23) and Germany (No. 24) dropped out of the top 20 in part because of a rise in happiness among other countries — especially Czechia (No. 18), Lithuania (No. 19) and Slovenia (No. 21). The United Kingdom was No. 20.

While Lithuania ranked 19th this year on the overall list, among respondents under 30, it was the No. 1 happiest country in 2024. For those over 60, Lithuania came in at No. 44.

In the United States and Canada, happiness scores from people under 30 were dramatically lower than those from people age 60 and older. Among people under 30, the US ranked at No. 62, while for those 60 and older, it was No. 10. Canada was No. 58 among the young and No. 8 for those 60 and older.

Australia and New Zealand, to a lesser extent, also saw much lower rankings among the young.

The United States dropped out of the top 20 in 2024, in part because of low scores among young people. San Francisco is pictured. Liu Guanguan/China News Service/VCG/Getty Images

Helliwell said the low scores among the young in those countries aren’t a matter of less education or lower income or more ill health.

“It’s what they think about their lives. So it’s a mood question,” he said. Helliwell attributes the drop in part to the information young people in those four primarily English-speaking nations are consuming.

“They’re hearing the news that’s making them unhappy and they may be sharing it and that may make them unhappy too,” he said.

But it’s not all bad news for young people.

“Overall, globally, young people aged 15-24 experienced improved life satisfaction between 2006 and 2019, and stable life satisfaction since then,” the report says. “But the picture varied by region. Youth wellbeing fell in North America, Western Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia. In the rest of the world, it rose.”

Another positive takeaway related to young people: The spike in benevolence during the pandemic among all generations was especially pronounced among young people, Helliwell said, and that has endured.

“So that’s encouraging. Despite the fact that in some countries they’re not very happy, they’re still capable of and willing to engage in benevolent acts for others. And that gives you hope for the future.”

World’s 20 happiest countries in 2024

1. Finland

2. Denmark

3. Iceland

4. Sweden

5. Israel

6. Netherlands

7. Norway

8. Luxembourg

9. Switzerland

10. Australia

11. New Zealand

12. Costa Rica

13. Kuwait

14. Austria

15. Canada

16. Belgium

17. Ireland

18. Czechia

19. Lithuania

20. United Kingdom

At the bottom of the list

Afghanistan remains the world’s lowest-ranked country for happiness. Lebanon, Lesotho, Sierra Leone and Congo also ranked at the bottom.

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