Dark, cold Finland happier than sunny South Africa

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Every year, organisations of every variety come up with reports and lists on all sorts of topics – from economic growth, to industry-specific insights, to social issues. The United Nations, for example, releases a “happiness index”, looking at – as the name implies – which countries in the world boast the happiest people.

Sunrise in FinlandThe report evaluates the happiness levels of citizens of 156 countries, based on factors such as life expectancy, social support and corruption. This year, the UN report included immigrants for the first time, in 117 of the countries.

It will come as no surprise to those of us living in “deepest, darkest Africa” that African countries were further down the list than their European counterparts, as well as other so-called first world countries.

Considering that factors such as lack of access to, or low income, and corruption lower a country’s ratings on the list, it is heartening to see that while African countries are nowhere near the top ten happiest countries in the world, they are climbing up the ranks.

This year the trend seen in the past few issues of the report continues: the Nordic countries are the happiest places to live. 2018 saw Finland bump Norway off the top spot, with Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia following. The United States fell to 18th place from 14th last year.

All of these countries tend to have high values for all six of the key variables found to support well-being and happiness. These are income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, and generosity. According to the index, South Africa is seriously lacking on most of these: South Africa ranked 105th out of the 156 countries evaluated.

We’re still better off than Yemen, Tanzania, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and Burundi, who make the very bottom of the list, but it is telling that there are dictatorships which have higher happiness rankings than South Africa. Russia came in at 59th place, Libya was ranked 70th and China reached 86th place. Other African counties ahead of us were Mauritius (55), Algeria (84), Morocco (85), Nigeria (91), Somalia (98), Cameroon (99), and Gabon (103).

The UN’s analysis of happiness shows Togo was the biggest gainer, moving up 17 places in the overall rankings. The biggest loser was Venezuela, with political, social and economic unrest affecting citizens’ happiness.

This ranking was initiated in 2012 when the tiny country of Bhutan, which came in 97th place, brought attention to happiness as a metric for its people. It’s prime minister proposed a World Happiness Day to the United Nations in 2011, and a year later, the U.N. General Assembly declared March 20 as World Happiness Day, recognising “the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives”.

While many governments strive to provide the services that improve people’s lives, few are consciously looking to increase the happiness of their citizens. In a world where customer service is getting more important, and happiness is being measured, perhaps politicians will start running on “happiness” tickets, rather than the usual platforms, in order to get their messages heard. It has been shown that neither wealth, nor health, nor relationships cause happiness. In fact, happiness causes good health, wealth and good relationships. Maybe it is time that governments employ this to their advantage, and there’s a good chance that improved governance will follow.

Image credit: Copyright: arskabb / 123RF Stock Photo


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