Can we measure happiness? Yes, to an extent, as the numbers below tell us. Much of the studies, however, are dependent on personal perception, respondents providing their answers on how they feel or see life in general.
The data show us that happiness, although an individual emotional exercise, impacts our behaviors as a society. A country behaves in a way that its people collectively behave, and happiness is a good indicator of these dynamics. That said, happiness is a valuable metric to measure a country’s socio-economic and political stability and sustainability.
In this article, we collate key happiness statistics that paint the picture where people are happiest and why both at the macro and micro levels.
Happiness Statistics Table of Contents
Happiest Countries Statistics
Happiness in the scale of society as an entity can be gauged by a variety of metrics such as how rich the country is per capita, how long they live, and how they are governed. Expectedly, using different happiness metrics do result in different rankings as we can glean from these numbers:
- Nordic countries dominate the top spots for the happiest countries. All five Nordic countries made it to the list of the World Happiness Report 2020, as follows: 1) Finland: 2) Denmark; 3) Switzerland; 4) Iceland; 5) Norway: 6) Netherlands; 7) Sweden; 8) New Zealand; 9) Austria; 10) Luxembourg.
- Finland has made it to the top of the list for the third year in a row.
- It also has garnered the top spot for the happiest cities with Helsinki at the helm.
- The United States is far down the list at 18th spot, a slight improvement from its 2019 ranking at 19th, while Canada is at 11th and the United Kingdom at 13th on this year’s list.
- Meanwhile, the unhappiest country is Afghanistan, followed by South Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Source: World Happiness Report 2020
Contrast the World Happiness Report to a much earlier study, and we get a different picture altogether.
- The Happy Planet Index ranked the following countries as happiest using ecological footprint and wellbeing as major factors: 1) Costa Rica; 2) Mexico; 3) Colombia; 4) Vanuatu; 5) Vietnam; 6) Panama; 7) Nicaragua; 8) Bangladesh; 9) Thailand; 10) Ecuador.
- The Happy Planet Index didn’t factor in GPD per capita (how wealthy the people are) as opposed to The World Happiness Report, resulting in a vastly different list.
It seems that when it comes to measurable material standards, Western countries are happiest. But in terms of the subjective nature of happiness–people satisfied with their lives–Latin America dominates the ranking. And yes, we’re not talking about the World Cup here.
- However, wealth as a sole factor of happiness doesn’t cut it. Looking at the richest nations based on average individual wealth, only Switzerland made it to the top 10 of the World Happiness Report (in USD): 1) Switzerland $564,653; 2) Hong Kong SAR $489,258; 3) US $432,365; 4) Bermuda $417,694; 5) Greenland $417,694; 6) Australia $386,058; 7) Iceland $380,868; 8) Luxembourg $358,003; 9) New Zealand $304,124; 10) Singapore $297,873.
The World Happiness Report suggests the following reasons why Nordic countries are consistently at the top percentile of the happiest countries: extensive welfare benefits, low corruption, well-functioning democracy, and state institutions. The “Nordic Exceptionalism,” as the report labels it, reminds us of another study where these countries rank high as well:’ commitment to reducing income inequality.
- Top 10 countries based on inequality index or the country’s commitment to reduce income gap: 1) Sweden; 2) Belgium; 3) Denmark; 4) Norway; 5) Germany; 6) Finland; 7) Austria; 8) France; 9) Netherlands; 10) Luxembourg.
- The US ranked 23rd in the inequality index, somewhat corroborating its poor ranking among the world’s happiest countries.
While wealth is an indicator, its distribution seems to be the key to happiness. People in Nordic countries are satisfied with, not how much they have, but how much everyone has in relation to each other. It’s no surprise that the happiest countries are strong democracies committed to equitable wealth distribution.
Source: World Happiness Report 2020
Happiness Across Time Statistics
Happiness is never static. How we experience life changes over time, influenced by factors like government, environment, urban-rural migration, and individual perception.
- In some cases, the jump is dramatic. For instance, Zimbabwe experienced a huge jump in happiness from 56.4% in 2004 to 82.1% ten years hence. In roughly the same period, Zimbabwe experienced one of the fastest economic booms at 12% growth between 2009 and 2013, which might explain the jump.
- In most cases, though, the change in happiness index is subtle but still significant. In 2004, 93.42% of people in the US. said they are happy. Ten years hence, it dipped to 91.08%. The same period includes the subprime housing crisis that blew up in 2008.
Another study emphasized that, although happiness is marked by changes across time, a “happy” country generally keeps a positive outlook over the years. Political, economic, and social stability holds steady the graph for these countries despite short-term fluctuations in the happiness meter.
- The UK kept a happiness index between 85% to 95% from 1973 to 2016, while France kept to 75% to roughly above 85% in the same period. The Netherlands nearly stayed within the 95% range despite moments of drastic fluctuations in 1975 and 2003 that saw its happiness index dip to 86.18% and 90.09%, respectively.
We can say that happiness is likewise cross-generational, parents passing the positive outlook to their kids if we go by the numbers above.
Happiness of Immigrants Statistics
So far studies have been focused on native-born citizens when we rank the happiest countries. But a good chunk of the population consists of immigrants. To illustrate,
- More than a quarter of Australia’s populace are foreign-born (28.2%), the third country with the most immigrants. The top ten countries by percentage of the host country’s population are: 1) UAE (87.3%); 2) Saudi Arabia (34.1%); 3) Australia (28.2%); 4) Canada (21.0%); 5) the US (15.1%); 6) the UK (12.9%); 7) Spain (12.7%); 8) Germany (12.5%); 9) France (12.3%); 10) Ukraine (11%).
The World Happiness Report suggests that immigrants are likely as happy as locally born people. Nevertheless, there are slight differences.
- For instance, Mexico ranks 10th where immigrants are happiest but ranks 24th for locally born people. Other countries with drastic differences between the happiness of its immigrants vs. locals, respectively, are Australia (6th vs. 10th), Switzerland (9th vs. 5th), and the Netherlands (11th vs. 6th).
- In the US, the happiness disparity between immigrants and locals is subtle; the country being 15th for immigrants and 18th for locals.
- The countries with the least disparity between immigrants’ and locals’ happiness levels, respectively, are 1) Finland (1st vs. 1st); 2) Denmark (2nd vs. 3rd); 3) Norway (3rd vs. 2nd); 4) Iceland (4th vs. 4th); 5) Canada (7th vs. 7th); 6) Sweden (8th vs. 9th); 7) Israel (12th vs. 11th); and Ireland (13th vs. 14th).
Source: World Happiness Report 2020
Personal Happiness Statistics
From the macro level, let’s check happiness from a personal standpoint.
- A Gallup poll showed that 6-7 hours of socializing daily results in the highest level of happiness for people.
- Regular contact with 10 friends is the bare minimum for friends to impact on your happiness level.
- Money is happiness, at least up to earning $75,000 annual salary, the cap that puts the widest smile on the face of the average Joe and Jane. No surprise here, people who earn less tend to face hardships in life.
- You are in control of your happiness or at least up to 40% of it if you have to be scientific. Researchers believe a big part of your happiness is beyond your control, a mix of factors, such as genes, other people’s behaviors, and life circumstances.
- You are happiest at age 33, 55, and the 70s, at least on the average. Thirty-three because you have the energy and knowledge to pursue your passion, 55 because you’ve gained enough assets and authority and seventies because you’re free of many stress-causing responsibilities, and you can look back to your life’s accomplishments.
Happiness and Technology Statistics
The data above show us that happiness is closely tied to one’s improvement in life. People in developed countries tend to be happier than those in poor economies. Using life improvement as a barometer for happiness, we want to see how technology contributes to or subtracts from our level of happiness as a society.
- When asked if technology has significantly improved one’s life, Indians were the most optimistic with 65,2% of the respondents saying yes. They are followed by: 2) Malaysians (49.6%); 3) Americans (43%); 4) Italians (42.2%); 5) Singaporeans (40.6%); 6) French (34.2%); 7) South Koreans (33.8%); 8) English (25.6%); 9) Germans (24.6%); and 10) Japanese (11.4%).
- A much earlier study by the Pew Research Center reported that 90% of Americans think that the Internet has been a positive thing for them.
- Overall, 76% of Internet users think that people online are mostly kind to each other.
- Another 56% said that they’ve witnessed individuals coming together to help someone or a cause.
- 67% also reported more robust relationships with friends and families because of online communication.
- A Gallup World Poll also showed that people as a whole are happiest when they have both a mobile phone and internet access. On a scale of 0-10 with 10 the best outcome, people with both mobile phones and internet access scored 5.92. Compare this with the opposite end of the spectrum, people with no mobile phone and no internet access, and the score dipped to 4.59. Within this range, people with internet access only are happier (5.83) than people with mobile phones only (4.65).
Source: Gallup World Poll
Nevertheless, we know how social media perpetuates the reverse, providing a platform for cyberbullying or online envy.
- 15% of US students aged 12-18 who’d been bullied at school reported being bullied as well online or by text.
- Meanwhile, researchers at Bradley University, the University of Missouri Columbia, and Nanyang Technological University found that using Facebook extensively can lead to sadness or what they called “Facebook envy” of seeing how successful their friends are in society.
- Another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology associated Facebook use with a 5%-8% decrease in self-reported mental health.
Happiness is Not Carpentry Work
The numbers above point us to crystal clear patterns that make people smile. We can deduce that rich people and countries are generally happier than their poor counterparts. To be specific, income and life satisfaction provide a solid foundation for our happiness as a group or individually.
Of course, statistics cannot truly interpolate emotions. For one, our conclusion flies in the face of the US situation. It’s rich political and social mechanisms provide people, both locals, and immigrants, with one of the best avenues to achieve one’s life satisfaction, the so-called American Dream, be it a house, career, or realizing your best potential.
Yet, the US also ranks third in opioid addiction and second in drug abuse and amphetamines. Studies have shown that addiction leads to a downward spiraling emotional ride towards unhappiness, the exact antithesis to our topic.
While these happiness statistics can help us develop policies and understand our individual perceptions and preferences, they also prove that happiness is no carpentry work, we can disassemble by its parts. Happiness is more of an artwork inspired by our deep-seated emotions subject to our own interpretations that no science can put in a box.
- World Happiness Report 2020
- Happy Planet Index ranking of countries that offer the happiest and most sustainable lives to their people 2016
- Top countries with the highest average wealth per adult in 2019
- Which countries are the most (and least) committed to reducing inequality?
- World Value Survey
- Where Immigrants are Happiest
- Social Time Crucial to Daily Emotional Well-Being in U.S.
- Wide circle of friends key to mid-life wellbeing for both sexes
- Money & Your Happiness
- Can We Really Change How Happy We Are—for Good?
- Happiness by the Numbers: 8 Stats That Could Change Your Life
- Growing influence of online tech and its impact on people’s lives worldwide 2018
- Poll: 90 Percent of Americans Think Internet Is Good For Them.
- Happiness in the Digital Age
- Do Mobile Phones Make People Happier?
- Bullying at School and Electronic Bullying
- If Facebook Use Causes Envy, Depression Could Follow
- Association of Facebook Use With Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study.
- Global Burden of Disease Results Tool.