What makes a country happy? Is it access to quality health care, a high life expectancy, financial stability, freedom, social connection, or a combination of everything? And how do you go about ranking a quality that’s almost impossible to quantify? This is a challenge that the World Happiness Report has taken on over the past nine years, relying on a wide variety of data — most notably the Gallup World Poll — to determine how every country around the world ranks when it comes to happiness, or what the report calls “average national life evaluations.”
In addition to taking into account the usual data, the team this year reviewed the effects of COVID-19 on the quality of people’s lives, considering everything from mental health and social interaction to job security and the government’s response to the pandemic. Their findings spotlight the countries that not only offer their inhabitants a happy, high quality of life, but have also provided well-being to their citizens throughout the tumultuous COVID-19 era.
Finland may have cold, dark winters, but the northern lifestyle clearly suits its citizens who have helped put the country at the top of the World Happiness Report for the third consecutive year (they were at number five in 2017). With a score of 7.889, Finland has once again set the tone for other nations when it comes to factors like social support, a healthy life expectancy, freedom, perceptions of corruption, and dystopia.
As a country, Finland offers its inhabitants and visitors access to the water, vast wilderness with national parks and ski resorts, and the country’s iconic Lapland region — home to the Sami people, reindeer, and the northern lights.
This Nordic island nation is loved by travelers for its dramatic landscape filled with hot springs, volcanoes, geysers, and stunning coastal waterfalls. But while Iceland has been a popular destination among tourists in recent years, those who live here year-round enjoy a quality of life that puts them at number two in the World Happiness Report (moving up from number four in 2020).
Bridging the gap between the Scandinavian countries of Norway and Sweden and mainland Europe is this water-rich nation with numerous islands, the iconic Nyhavn harbor, and the beautiful capital city of Copenhagen.
The country dropped from number two in 2020 to three in 2021, but it remains consistent in its place within the top five happiest countries in the world for many years running.
Breaking the stream of Nordic and Scandinavian countries is Switzerland, a small nation that’s tucked between France, Germany, Austria, and Italy. With a setting that’s smack dab in the middle of some of the world’s most beautiful mountains, Switzerland is home to quaint alpine villages, beautiful lakes, ski resorts, hiking trails, and a world-renowned watch and chocolate industry.
Among other factors, the country boasts a steady, high GDP, which offers its inhabitants financial security.
This European nation is found along the continent’s northwestern coast. A favorite with tourists, the country’s capital city of Amsterdam is known for its canals, bike-friendly streets, museums, and the house where Anne Frank hid during World War II. In addition to attracting an impressive number of visitors year after year, the country is home to some very happy locals, giving it a spot at number five on the 2021 World Happiness Report.
Joining its fellow Scandinavian nations with a high happiness ranking is Sweden, a country that’s rich in coastal islands, glaciated mountains, and vast forests and lakes. While Sweden’s population is most dense in the capital of Stockholm and major cities of Gothenburg and Malmö, the country provides its citizens with access to nature, a high life expectancy, strong social support, and life freedom, among other qualities.
Germany climbed from number 17 in 2020 to seven in 2021, getting the country into the report’s coveted top 10 ranking. The relatively large European country shares borders with a handful of World Happiness Report notables, including Denmark, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.
In addition to providing its people with a happy life, Germany is renowned for many things — most notably its art and nightlife-rich capital of Berlin, as well as the annual Oktoberfest in Munich.
Not to be left off this Scandinavian-dominated ranking, Norway comes in at number eight in 2021. The ranking marks a slight slip from its number five placement in 2020 and number three ranking in 2019, but it confirms the country’s stellar overall showing on the World Happiness Report. The coastal nation, which borders Sweden, is known as the land of the Vikings, with a landscape that includes fjords, mountains, and giant glaciers.
New Zealand’s number nine ranking is only more impressive when you consider that it’s the only non-European nation to make it onto the 2021 World Happiness Report’s top 10 list. The island country in Oceania (right off the coast of Australia) is made up of two main swaths of land: the North Island and the South Island, and more than 700 smaller islands. The country slid slightly from number eight in 2020 to its current place at number nine, but it remains a strong contender in the field of happiness year after year, thanks to its strong social support system and low feelings of dystopia (among other factors).
Just making it onto the 2021 World Happiness Report’s top 10 ranking is Austria, a landlocked European nation known for its beautiful mountains, great skiing, and the artistic, musical city of Vienna (also the nation’s capital). In addition to a beautiful landscape, sports, and art, Austria continues to rank well when it comes to factors that make a country happy, including generosity, GDP, and life expectancy.