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The U.S. doesn’t crack the top 10 happiest countries in the world

🕐 3 min read

The latest version of the World Happiness Report was released Wednesday, and the good news for the United States is that its place on the report’s ranking of the most and least happy countries is pretty high, and moving up. This year’s update, produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), shows that the U.S. ranked 13th of all countries for its happiness level this year, up from 15th last year and 17th in 2013. In 2012, it was 11th on the list.

The bad news, however, is that while our overall ranking may be improving, the change in U.S. happiness levels, as reported between 2005 to 2007 and 2013 to 2015, doesn’t look so hot. On a ranking of whose score moved up and down the most, the U.S. ranks 93rd of 126 countries, sandwiched between Finland and Portugal. (Nicaragua, Sierra Leone and Ecuador saw the biggest jumps in overall happiness, while Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Greece saw the biggest drops.)

Also discouraging — if not surprising — was another comparison within the report. For the first time this year, it included a ranking of happiness inequality — what might be called the well-being gap, rather than the income gap — within different countries, and the U.S. came in at No. 85 of 157 countries, between Chile and Slovenia.

“Attention has been almost entirely focused on the nature and consequences of economic equality,” the report’s authors write. “Would it not be helpful to have a measure of distribution that has some capacity to bring the different facets of inequality together, and to assess their joint consequences?”

The U.S.’s overall ranking has not cracked the top 10 in any of the four reports; it’s long been dominated by Scandinavian countries and others from the developed world. Last year’s ranking included the same top 10 countries, albeit in a slightly different order.

The lowest-ranked countries on this year’s list were Benin, Afghanistan, Togo, Syria and Burundi, also similar to last year’s list.

SDSN, which includes leaders from academia, government and the private sector, was launched with the United Nations in 2012, though it is independent. It bases its rankings on surveys by the Gallup World Poll as well as analyzing how six variables — such as GDP per capita or healthy life expectancy — help explain each country’s score.

The top 20 countries ranked on the 2016 World Happiness Report:

1. Denmark

2. Switzerland

3. Iceland

4. Norway

5. Finland

6. Canada

7. Netheralnds

8. New Zealand

9. Australia

10. Sweden

11. Israel

12. Austria

13. United States

14. Costa Rica

15. Puerto Rico

16. Germany

17. Brazil

18. Belgium

19. Ireland

20. Luxembourg

The report was issued at a three-day series of conferences on happiness and subjective well-being in Italy, and in advance of the U.N.’s World Happiness Day, which is Sunday. This year’s report included several papers prepared for the conference in Rome — one of which looks at the happiness of parents — and highlights that next year’s report will include a deeper analysis of workplace happiness, as well as implications for immigrants and refugees.

In a statement announcing the report, one of its authors, Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, said that leaders of every nation should be measuring happiness and well-being in support of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“Rather than taking a narrow approach focused solely on economic growth, we should promote societies that are prosperous, just, and environmentally sustainable,” he said.

Some countries are taking that concept literally, naming ministers or secretaries of happiness or well-being. The Post’s Adam Taylor reported in February that Venezuela has a “vice ministry of supreme social happiness,” Ecuador has a state secretary of “buen vivir,” and the United Arab Emirates recently announced it would create a “minister of state for happiness.”

Last year, one of the report’s co-authors, Richard Layard, who is director of the Wellbeing Program at the London School of Economics, said that the “argument lying behind the whole report is policymakers should be making the happiness of the people their goals, which is not a new idea.”

Or, as translated for U.S. politicians: Let’s make America happy again.

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