These are the happiest countries in the world – and where South Africa ranks

 ·25 Mar 2023

US analytics and advisory company Gallup, and the UN, have published the 2023 World Happiness Report – a survey of the state of global happiness ranking 137 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be.

This year’s World Happiness Report focuses on the growing consensus about how happiness should be measured and how national happiness can become an operational objective for governments.

It also focused on the inequality of happiness by comparing the happiness gap between the population’s top and bottom halves.

The report acknowledges that GDP, household income and unemployment data do not tell us anything about happiness.

The institutions behind the report are of the view that leaders can no longer assume that the lives of those in their countries improve with a rise in GDP, as was shown in the Arab Uprising countries where GDP was increasing, but the ratings of their lives trended downward ahead of the unrest.

According to the report, a population will only experience high levels of overall life satisfaction if its people are also pro-social, healthy, and prosperous.

In other words, its people must have high levels of what Aristotle called ‘eudaimonia’, which is the condition of human flourishing or of living well.

Happiest countries

The report found that the happiest countries tend to have high values for most of the critical variables that have been found to support well-being:

  • Income;
  • Healthy life expectancy;
  • Social support;
  • Freedom to make key life decisions;
  • Trust and generosity; and
  • The absence of corruption.

Life evaluations have remained remarkably resilient, with global averages in the Covid-19 years 2020-2022 just as high as those in the pre-pandemic years 2017-2019, said the report.

Respondents were asked to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10 and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on a 0 to 10 scale.

The results show that Finland remains in the top position for the sixth year in a row, while Demark places second, as the top of the list is dominated by Nordic and North European countries.

Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland also feature in the top 10 – with a notable exception being Israel and New Zealand, ranking 4th and 10th, respectively.

Australia (12th), Canada (13th), and the United Kingdom (19th) all featured in the top 20 – with Austria (11th) and Ireland (14th) also notable standouts.

On the other end of the spectrum, War-torn Afghanistan and Lebanon remain the two unhappiest countries in the survey, with average life evaluations more than five points lower (on a scale running from 0 to 10) than in the ten happiest countries.

Top 20 happiest countries 

Top 20 unhappiest countries

South Africa

South Africa is ranked 85th on the list – behind other countries such as Algeria (81st), Vietnam (65th), and the Russian Federation (70th).

However, this marks a substantial increase in life satisfaction and happiness in the country compared to the pre-Covid rankings, which placed south Africa at 106th.

The report also looked deeper into the distribution of well-being – showing the size of the happiness gap between the more and less happy halves of the population, ranking from the smallest to the largest gap.

A higher ranking means a lower happiness inequality.

However, This gap is small in countries where most people are happy but also in those countries where almost no one is happy. Despite this, the trend shows that, in general, people are happier living in countries where the happiness gap is smaller.

In this regard, South Africa climbs a little further, ranking 73rd with a gap of 3.68 between the happiest and most unhappy in the country.

The Netherlands ranks 2nd with a gap of only 1.7, followed by Finland (1.9), Iceland (2.1), Belgium (2.2), and Sweden (2.27).

However, ranked in 1st place is Afghanistan with a gap of (1.6), showing that across the entire population, most people are generally unhappy – which accounts for the small gap.

Top 20 countries with the smallest happiness inequality

Read: Best countries for South Africans to study and work in 2023

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