Despite long winters and cold weather, a new UN survey suggests that Finland is the happiest place on Earth in 2018. The Czech Republic came in 21st, beating France, Spain and Italy.
The World Happiness Report measures “subjective well-being” – how happy people feel they are, and why. Scandinavian countries regularly feature at the top of the list, while war-torn countries and those in sub-Saharan Africa normally appear in the bottom five.
Burundi was the least happy country on the planet, taking over from the Central African Republic. It was thrown into chaos recently when President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for re-election to a third term in 2015 sparked widespread protests and riots by opposition supporters who deemed the move was unconstitutional.
An interesting aspect of this year’s research, completed by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, was asking migrants how happy they were, with Finland’s migrants also coming top of the list in terms of happiness.
Why are the Finns so happy?
The Finns are well known for their love of saunas, and with an estimated 3.3 million saunas in the country, you could fit more than half the population in a sauna at any one time. This is the highest sauna per capita in the world.
“I think everything in this society is set up for people to be successful, starting with university and transportation that works really well,” American teacher Brianna Owens, who lives in Finland’s second biggest city Espoo, told Reuters news agency.
The survey ranks some 156 countries by their happiness levels, and 117 by the happiness of their immigrants. Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland, as expected from previous yearly reports, were the other countries in the top five. The United Kingdom and the United States came in at 19th and 18th places respectively. Togo is the country with the biggest increase, rising 17 places, while the happiness of citizens of Venezuela seems to have plummeted, dropping 20 places to 102nd.
The study found that the 10 happiest countries also scored highest on immigrant happiness, suggesting that migrants’ wellbeing was tied to the quality of life in their adopted home.
With a population of around 5.5 million people, Finland was home to an estimated 300,000 foreigners in 2016.
“The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born,” said John Helliwell, co-editor of the report and a professor at the University of British Columbia.
The report relies on asking a simple, subjective question of more than 1,000 people in more than 150 countries.
“Imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”
The average result is the country’s score – ranging from Finland’s 7.6 to Burundi’s 2.9.
But the report also uses statistics to explain why one country is happier than another. It looks at factors including economic strength (measured in GDP per capita), social support, life expectancy, freedom of choice, generosity, and perceived corruption.