Why Norway is the happiest place in the world

March 20, 2017, 3:53 p.m.
happy girl jumps in the mountains in Norway
Photo: Alvov/Shutterstock

Norway is the happiest place on Earth, overtaking nearby Denmark from the No. 1 position, according to the World Happiness Report.

Norway moved up from fourth place in the United Nations report with Iceland in third, Switzerland in fourth and Finland in fifth. The United States is No. 14 (down from No. 13 last year). The World Happiness Report was released to coincide with the United Nations' International Day of Happiness on March 20.

The report measures subjective well-being by asking more than 1,000 people each year from 155 countries a simple question called the Cantril ladder:

Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. Suppose we say that the top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you, and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally stand at this time?

The average answer is the country's happiness score. They range from Norway's 7.537 to the Central African Republic's 2.693.

Here are the countries at the top of the list:

  1. Norway
  2. Denmark
  3. Iceland
  4. Switzerland
  5. Finland
  6. Netherlands
  7. Canada
  8. New Zealand
  9. Australia
  10. Sweden

...and at the bottom:

146. Yemen
147. South Sudan
148. Liberia
149. Guinea
150. Togo
151. Rwanda
152. Syria
153. Tanzania
154. Burundi
155. Central African Republic

Why some countries are happier

To try to explain why some countries are happier than others, the report also analyzes six variables. It looks at economic strength (GDP per capita), life expectancy, social support, freedom to make life decisions, generosity, and absence of corruption in business and government.

For example, the findings show that even though the U.S. scores higher on the ladder for GDP per capita than the five Nordic countries (Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden), they all score higher than the U.S. in happiness. The study's authors write, "The explanation is that the Nordic countries far outpace the U.S. on personal freedom, social support, and lower corruption, thereby accounting for the higher levels of Nordic happiness."

Or, quite simply, money can't always buy happiness.