Since 2002, the World Happiness Report has used statistical analysis to determine the world's happiest countries. In its 2021 update, the report concluded that Finland is the happiest country in the world. To determine the world's happiest country, researchers analyzed comprehensive Gallup polling data from 149 countries for the past three years, specifically monitoring performance in six particular categories: gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make your own life choices, generosity of the general population, and perceptions of internal and external corruption levels.
In order to properly compare each country's data, the researchers created a fictional country—christened Dystopia—filled with "the world's least-happy people." They then set Dystopia as the rock bottom value in each of the six categories and measured the scores of the real-world countries against this value. All six variables were then blended to create a single combined score for each country. Interestingly enough, the top seven happiest countries in the world for 2021 were all Northern European countries. Finland took top honors—for the fourth year in a row—with an overall score of 7.842, followed (in order) by Denmark (7.620), Switzerland (7.571), Iceland (7.554), the Netherlands (7.464), Norway (7.392), and Sweden (7.363).
The least happy country in the world for 2021 was Afghanistan, whose 149th-place ranking of 2.523 can be attributed in part to a low life expectancy rate and low gross domestic product rates per capita. It's worthwhile to note that the report was released before the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, which will undoubtedly impact future scores in one way or another. Rounding out the bottom five are Zimbabwe (3.145), Rwanda (3.415), Botswana (3.467), and Lesotho (3.512). For the full list of all 149 countries and their rankings, scroll down to the table below. For more on the top seven—as well as an inspiring honorable mention—read on.
The Top 7 Happiest Countries in the World (plus an inspiring honorable mention) for 2021:
Finland ranks as the world's happiest country based on the 2021 report, with a score of 7.842 out of a total possible score of 10. The report writers credited the citizens of Finland's strong feelings of communal support and mutual trust with not only helping secure the #1 ranking, but (more importantly) helping the country as a whole navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, Finlanders felt strongly that they were free to make their own choices, and showed minimal suspicion of government corruption. Both of these factors are strong contributors to overall happiness.
The second-happiest country in the world is Denmark, which scores 7.620. Denmark's values for each of the six variables are quite comparable to those of Finland. In fact, Denmark even outscored the leader in multiple categories, including GDP per capita, generosity, and perceived lack of corruption, demonstrating that it may claim the top spot sometime in the near future.
As the third-happiest country in the world, Switzerland scored a total of 7.571 out of 10. In general, the Swiss are very healthy, with one of the world's lowest obesity rates and a long life expectancy. The Swiss also have a very high median salary, about 75% higher than that of the United States, and the highest GDP per capita in the top seven. Additionally, there is a strong sense of community in Switzerland and a firm belief that it is a safe and clean country—which is statistically true. Along with Iceland and Denmark, Switzerland is one of the world's safest countries.
Iceland ranks as 2021's fourth-happiest country in the entire world, with a total score of 7.554. Of the top seven happiest countries around the globe, Iceland has the highest feeling of social support (higher even than Finland, Norway, and Denmark, which all tied for second place). Iceland also had the second-highest generosity score in the top seven, though it's worth noting that it ranked only 11th worldwide.
Edging out Norway for the honor of fifth-happiest country in the world is the Netherlands (also known as Holland to many tulip lovers), with a score of 7.464. The Netherlands scored higher in the generosity category than any other top-seven country and also displayed an impressive lack of perceived corruption.
The citizens of sixth-place Norway (7.392) feel they are being well cared for by their government thanks to universal healthcare and free college tuition. Norwegians also enjoy a healthy work-life balance, working an average of 38 hours per week vs. 41.5. hours per week in the United States. Additionally, Norway has a low crime rate and a strong sense of community among its citizens—a quality it shares with many of the top seven.
Seventh-place Sweden (7.363) ranks high, if not quite highest, in virtually every category measured. For example: Sweden has a higher lack of corruption score than all but four countries worldwide (two of which are Finland and Denmark), the fourteenth-highest GDP per capita of all 149 countries measured, and the fourth-highest life expectancy in the top seven.
Honorable Mention: Bhutan
Bhutan was excluded from the 2021 report due to a technicality: Each country's scores are based upon detailed Gallup polls, but Gallup did not conduct polling in Bhutan during the required timeframe. However, the report's writers made a special effort to pay tribute to Bhutan, saying it "once again provided an inspiring example for the world about how to combine health and happiness. They made explicit use of the principles of Gross National Happiness in mobilizing the whole population in collaborative efforts to avoid even a single COVID-19 death in 2020, despite having strong international travel links." Impressive indeed. If Gallup begins polling in Bhutan, Northern Europe's hold on happiness may soon have competition.