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Ellina Webb looks at the UN's 'happiest places on the earth.'

A few weeks ago, in celebration of Halloween, I spoke about the top 10 list of fears that Americans are afraid of (and the results were not what you’d expect!).

This week I came across another type of top 10 list, this time it’s the World Happiness Report backed by the United Nations which ranks 155 countries in terms how happy their citizens are.

But who made the top 10 list and who ended up all the way down at number 155?

What is the World Happiness Report?

The World Happiness Report was first published in 2012 by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) as commissioned by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and reports on happiness and well-being.

In the words of the SDSN, happiness is “considered to be the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy” – hence the report, based on numerous types of surveys, is one that I recommend you have a look at. 

I'm pleased to see the UK enter the top 20, but I also wonder if we will ever be able to compete with happiness levels in Scandinavia and make it into the top 10!

Ellina Webb Ellina Webb Senior Marketing Executive

Very happy

We’ve spoke a lot about Norway on The Hub, mainly because they are leading the way in encouraging a healthy and renewable lifestyle – so it’s no surprise to see them snap up the top spot. In fact this year they actually knocked Demark off the spot, jumping 4 spaces ahead and ranking highly alongside Iceland, Switzerland and Finland due to happiness factors like caring, freedom, generosity and good governance.

Other happiness factors that differentiate the leading countries against those deemed “unhappy” include income, healthy life expectancy and trust (apparently measured by the absence of corruption).

In my opinion, what makes these mostly-Scandinavian countries stand out as happy is their whole life mantra with an emphasis on wellbeing; from their focus on social and community, to the importance they place on the future generation – as these following Hub articles explain:

Co-housing communities in Denmark 

Tackling plastic bottle usage in Sweden, Netherlands, Demark, Norway and Finland

Exploring the Danish wellbeing concept of Hygge

The use of renewables in Norway

Car free in Oslo

Sort of happy

In the UK at the moment, it feels like the country is divided given contentious issues such as Brexit. Despite this, continued uncertainty and ongoing 'austerity', the UK moved up a few spots to 19th place.

It's worth remembering that the survey looks at several factors that contribute to wellbeing and happiness, so this could be down to several different connected or disconnected issues.

Regardless of the reasoning, it has been good for the collective soul to see an increase in awareness of wellbeing and environmental issues, with advances on plans to improve air quality and combat pollution regularly in the news.

This coming April, we see energy targets for commercial buildings coming into effect, under the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES), so this is also likely to start grabbing the headlines. 

Housing is also regularly in the news, or rather the lack of it. As we find some way to build the new homes desperately needed, we also need to meet seriously stringent environmental targets and build with the future in mind (as they do in Scandinavia). 

For many year's now, social housing providers have led the way in the use of low-carbon renewable heating to combat fuel poverty and help tenants reduce running costs and emissions. 

Several factors are combining now to really point to the end of gas and oil. We are starting to see a real questioning on the previous way of doing things and this places a larger importance on the use of renewable technologies over fossil fuels as these other Hub articles explain:

The UK celebrates its first day without burning coal

Do you need a service before winter?

IAQ and the threat to your pet

Neither happy nor unhappy

This year China ranked at number 79 in the happiness report, in fact, they have ranked the same every year, placing them in the box that most satisfaction scales would class as “neither happy nor unhappy”.  Financially China has excelled, but in terms of wellbeing, this hinders their happiness level.

Wellbeing is measured by certain factors such as life satisfaction, job security, family and health and unfortunately for China between 1990 and 2005 wellbeing fell and has struggled to recover. 

Sort of unhappy

While America still scores highly in the report, ranking at number 14, in comparison to previous years it has slipped possibly due to corruption, inequality, isolation and distrust. Of course with the major social and political issues facing the US, it’s understandable why happiness levels may have dropped, especially if we compare to the top 10 list of American fears that I spoke about previously. For those who haven’t read my previous article, the number 1 fear in America is corrupt Government officials.

So as the world waits with bated breath to see if President Trump really can “make America great again”, in terms of the happiness scale I’ll be interested to see where they rank in 2018!


The countries that scored lowest in the list were mostly those in Africa, in fact the Central African Republic ranked in last place. This is likely again because of wellbeing and the effects of concerns like famine, corruption and inequality. Other non-African countries in the unhappy section include Yemen and Syria which, as we know, are in severe states of unrest and conflict.   

Final thoughts

I think a focus on happiness is a nice way to end the year and I look forward to seeing which countries rank where on the list next year.

Until then, after hearing a fantastic interview on BBC Two this morning regarding happiness levels across the world, I think this subject is one that we all need to continue talking about, after all the pursuit for happiness in terms of personal wellbeing and as a measure of social progress and public policy is one that underlines a large amount of topics we discuss here on the Hub every week.

Ellina Webb is a Senior Marketing Executive at Mitsubishi Electric

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