The world is a sadder place this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but some countries — including Canada — are feeling the blues more than others, according to the 2021 World Happiness Report from the United Nations.
Finland remained the happiest country in the world, Zimbabwe was at the bottom of the list, and Canada fell out of the top 10 in the annual World Happiness Index, which is compiled by a panel run by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network each year. The results are based on 2020 data examining income, freedom, trust in government, life expectancy, social support and generosity.
Canada ranked 15th on this year’s list, down five spots from 2017-2019, according to the report. Canada also officially fell behind the United States after ranking ahead of its southern neighbour for several years in a row. The U.S. placed just ahead of Canada at No. 14 on this year’s list.
Finland, meanwhile, ranked No. 1 for the fourth year in a row, while Nordic countries dominated the top five. New Zealand was the only non-European nation to crack the top 10:
- The Netherlands
- New Zealand
“We find year after year that life satisfaction is reported to be happiest in the social democracies of northern Europe,” co-author and Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs told the Associated Press. “People feel secure in those countries, so trust is high. The government is seen to be credible and honest, and trust in each other is high.”
The list was very similar to lists from previous years, suggesting that COVID-19 has not significantly upset the top tier of the rankings.
“We asked two kinds of questions: One is about the life in general, life evaluation, we call it. How is your life going? The other is about mood, emotions, stress, anxiety,” Sachs said. “Of course, we’re still in the middle of a deep crisis. But the responses about long-term life evaluation did not change decisively, though the disruption in our lives was so profound.”
Finnish philosopher Esa Saarinen, who was not involved in the report, thinks the Finnish character itself might help explain why the country keeps leading the index.
“I think Finns are pretty kind of content on some level at being just what we are,” he told the AP. “We don’t really have to be more.”
The annual survey tries to touch on nearly every country in the world, but this year’s list was missing about one-third of the world’s nations due to pandemic-related issues with running polls and collecting data. The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which produces the index, also put together a separate list using old data from countries that did not report in 2020. Finland topped that list while Afghanistan ranked last.
Researchers say the pandemic has taken a toll on people’s mental health, but overall, well-being remained about the same.
“Surprisingly there was not, on average, a decline in well-being when measured by people’s own evaluation of their lives,” co-author and University of British Columbia professor John Helliwell said in a news release. “One possible explanation is that people see COVID-19 as a common, outside threat affecting everybody and that this has generated a greater sense of solidarity and fellow-feeling.”
Although COVID-19 did not upset the top of rankings, it did appear to create some movement around the middle, Sachs said. Several Asian countries improved in their rankings based on the perception that they handled the pandemic well, he said. China, for example, moved from 94th to 84th on the list.
“This has been a difficult period,” Sachs said. “People are looking past it when they look for the long term. But there are also many people that are suffering in the short run.”
He added that the world “urgently” needs to learn from the pandemic, which has put a strain on many of the other factors that contribute to human happiness.
“The World Happiness Report 2021 reminds us that we must aim for wellbeing rather than mere wealth, which will be fleeting indeed if we don’t do a much better job of addressing the challenges of sustainable development,” Sachs said.
—With files from The Associated Press