Denmark beats Switzerland to become the world’s happiest country

Moving forward.
Moving forward.
Image: Reuters/Bob Strong
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If you want to enjoy the highest quality of life possible, you may want to consider a move to Scandinavia. A new report on worldwide happiness names Denmark as the happiest country on Earth, beating the other European nation that previously held that title: Switzerland.

This isn’t the first time that Denmark appears at the top of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN)’s list of happiest countries. The Nordic nation also ranked first in 2013, in the SDSN’s second-ever world happiness report, before falling to third place in the organization’s following report, published in 2015. 

The SDSN measured average levels of happiness by looking at variables like GDP per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, social freedom, and absence of corruption. However, in this year’s report (pdf), the researchers looked something new: the SDSN has decided not just to look how happy people are, but also how that happiness may be unequally distributed across individuals. In other words, for the first time, the SDSN is looking at how inequality affects national levels of well-being.

The researchers found that the happiest countries were also more equal—where the distribution of well-being was more even across a nation’s population. The group measured the distribution of happiness in this year’s report by analyzing responses to something called the Cantril ladder: Imagine a ladder with rungs numbered zero through 10, with 10 at the top representing the best possible life you can have. Where do you stand on the ladder at this time? This year’s report looks at the average ladder scores for more than 150 countries, averaged from roughly 1,000 survey responses collected across 150 countries in 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Their findings make a powerful case for public policy: When countries pursue economic growth while social or environmental conditions worsen, it affects the nation’s overall well-being, not just that of the already downtrodden. Researcher Jeffrey Sachs made this point to Reuters about the US, which he says has gotten richer, but not happier, over the years: “For a society that just chases money, we are chasing the wrong things. Our social fabric is deteriorating, social trust is deteriorating, faith in government is deteriorating.” The US, which comes in at 13th place in this year’s SDSN rankings, has seen a slight decline in its happiness since 2007, according to the study.