The happiest countries in the world – and where South Africa fits in

 ·20 Mar 2024

South Africa has climbed the rankings in the World’s Happiness Report despite its myriad of challenges, including load shedding, widespread unemployment and crime.

The report, done by the United Nations and US analytics company Gallup, uses responses from people in more than 140 nations to rank the world’s happiest countries.

The rankings are based on a three-year average of each population’s average assessment of their quality of life. Experts in economics, physiology, sociology, and beyond attempted to explain the variations per country based on several factors, such as GDP, life expectancy, perceptions of corruption, and more.

With a happiness score of 7.741, Finland topped the list for the seventh successive year and is followed by three Scandinavian countries – Denmark (2), Iceland (3) and Sweden (4).

Notably, Israel, which is in a heated military battle with Hamas in Gaza, Palestine, came fifth in the rankings.

“In the case of cataclysmic events happening during a particular year, their effect on the rankings will depend on when the survey took place and will be muted by the three-year averaging,” the report said.

“In the case of the October 7th attack on Israel and the subsequent war between Israel and Hamas, the survey in Palestine took place earlier in the year and the Israel survey after the hostage-taking but before much of the subsequent warfare.”

“Life evaluations fell sharply in Israel, by 0.9 on the 10-point scale, only one-third of which will enter the three-year averages.”

On the other end of the scale, Afghanistan remained the least happy country globally, with Lebanon (142) and South African neighbour Lesotho (141) completing the bottom three.

Happiest Countries

Unhappiest Countries

South Africa

South Africa ranked at number 83 overall (happiness score of 5.422) – up two places from 2023.

This is a substantial increase in life satisfaction and happiness compared to the pre-Covid rankings, where South Africa was ranked 106th.

South Africa is currently ranked alongside many other emerging markets, such as Colombia (78), Indonesia (80), Bulgaria (81), and Algeria (85).

Notably, South Africa’s entire population, no matter the age, finds themselves in a similar position.

South Africa ranks 87th in terms of happiness for those under the age of 30 (happiness score of 5.650).

For those above the age of 60, South Africa ranks at 82. Despite having a higher ranking than the younger population, the happiness score for South Africa’s older population (5.083) was lower, with younger populations tending to be happier.

South African Age Ranking
All Ages83
Young 87
Lower Middle84
Upper Middle81
Old 82
Happiest Young
Least HappyOld

Moreover, since 2006, the happiness score for South Africa increased by 0.321 – the 55th best overall.

Even with the disclaimer regarding the Hamas-Israel war, it is noticeable that South Africa is still one place behind the State of Palestine (happiness score increase of 0.366)

The countries which saw the most improvement in their happiness scores were Serbia (1.847) and Bulgaria (1.573).

Lebanon (2.324) and Afghanistan (2.599) saw their life evaluations more than half over the 17 years.

Read: Inflation blow for South Africa – bad news for interest rates

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