Hygge works as Norway takes top place in 2017 World Happiness report

by Ray Clancy on April 11, 2017

Hygge, the Norwegian expression to describe a feeling of cosiness has been trending around the world and now it seems that it really does work as Norway has been named the happiest country globally.

The 2017 World Happiness report from the United Nations shows that Norway has moved up from fourth place and is now officially the top out of 155 countries surveyed for happiness, but happiness is declining in the United States and not improved in China.

In second place is Denmark, followed by Iceland and Switzerland in a tightly packed group. All of the top four countries rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.

‘Norway moves to the top of the ranking despite weaker oil prices. It is sometimes said that Norway achieves and maintains its high happiness not because of its oil wealth, but in spite of it. By choosing to produce its oil slowly, and investing the proceeds for the future rather than spending them in the present, Norway has insulated itself from the boom and bust cycle of many other resource rich economies,’ the report says.

‘To do this successfully requires high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance, all factors that help to keep Norway and other top countries where they are in the happiness rankings,’ it adds.

The rest of the top 10 were also closely ranked with Finland in fifth place, followed by the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia and Sweden tied for the ninth position. The report also points out these countries had high values in all six of the key variables used to explain happiness.

The research found that some 80% of the variance of happiness across the world occurs within countries. In richer countries the within country differences are not mainly explained by income inequality, but by differences in mental health, physical health and personal relationships and the biggest single source of misery is mental illness.

Income differences matter more in poorer countries, but even there mental illness is a major source of misery. Work is also a major factor affecting happiness as unemployment causes a major fall in happiness, and even for those in work the quality of work can cause major variations in happiness.

The research also found that despite great change, people in China are no happier than they were 25 years ago. The country has seen its per capita income grow sharply but life evaluations fell steadily from 1990 till about 2005, recovering since then to about the 1990 levels. The report attributes the dropping happiness in the first part of the period to rising unemployment and fraying social safety nets.

Happiness has fallen in the United States. In 2007 the nation was ranked third among the OECD countries but in 2016 it fell to ninth. The report explains that the predominant political discourse in the US has been aimed at raising economic growth, with the goal of restoring the American Dream and the happiness that is supposed to accompany it.

But the data shows conclusively that this is the wrong approach and the report suggests that improving happiness means addressing America’s multi-faceted social crisis of rising inequality, corruption, isolation, and distrust rather than focusing exclusively or even mainly on economic growth, especially since the concrete proposals along these lines would exacerbate rather than ameliorate the deepening social crisis.

Rwanda, Syria, Tanzania, Burundi and the Central African Republic were at the bottom of the list. The report points out that they have poor scores when it comes to physical health, mental health and personal relationships. On top of that, unemployment rates are very high.

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