Traditionally, countries have been ranked by economic measures such as gross domestic product to determine the welfare of their people. Increasingly, though, social scientists have pushed for a new metric to be measured: happiness.
Measuring happiness, as opposed to focusing solely on economic metrics, can capture a broader set of factors that influence the well-being of people, like inequality, freedom and health. Along those lines, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network released its first World Happiness Report in 2012, arguing that it makes sense “to pursue policies to raise the public’s happiness as much as it does to raise the public’s national income.” Since then, the SDSN has released updates in 2013, 2015 and most recently 2016.
With the release of the 2016 report, FindTheData, a data reference site by Graphiq, ranked the countries with the happiest people. The report provides a happiness score for 157 countries and territories. Some countries, like North Korea, are not included due to a lack of data. To create the happiness score, the SDSN uses surveys from each country and weighs a variety of factors on a scale of zero to 10. Some of the relevant factors include GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy and freedom to make life choices.
When possible, the SDSN includes each country's change in happiness from 2005-07 to 2013-15. For some countries there was an insufficient number of observations for both time periods to include the difference. The SDSN also includes the standard deviation of happiness for each country for the 2012-2015 period.
From the data, it’s clear that the richest countries aren’t always the happiest. The three countries with the highest GDP — U.S., China and Japan — are all absent from the top 10. In its original report, the SDSN noted that countries can achieve economic development, “yet along the way succumb to new crises of obesity, smoking, diabetes, depression, and other ills of modern life.”
In general, it appears that Nordic countries have avoided many of these ills, occupying five of the top 10 spots. But even for the happiest of the bunch, no country scores above an eight. Only one country from South America makes the top 20, and no countries from Africa are in the top 30. Greece experienced the largest drop in happiness from 2005-07 to 2013-15, likely due to economic turmoil, while Nicaragua saw the greatest increase.