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The Happiest and Unhappiest Countries in the World

Last summer, Brexit shocked the world. Few global experts saw it coming. In their defense, most economic indicators didn't point to a political upheaval. Gross domestic product in the U.K. was growing at about 2%, and unemployment had dropped to 4.9%. From a data perspective, things seemed OK.

Another metric, however, showed something different happening in the U.K. -- "happiness." In the two years leading up to Brexit, Gallup found that the percentage of people who were "happy" (or "thriving") was in dramatic decline. In fact, the 15-percentage-point decline in the percentage of people rating their lives positively enough to be considered thriving was so dramatic that it remains among the largest two-year drops in Gallup's history of global tracking.

20170315_GlobalHappinessUK

Today, the U.N. launches its next iteration of its "World Happiness Report." Popularized by previous reports, these happiness rankings have become world famous. Many people can quickly identify Denmark, Norway and Switzerland as among the happiest countries. What people don't know is how happiness is measured and why it's so important to track.

The U.N.'s happiness rankings use one data point from a massive survey known as the Gallup World Poll. That data point comes from a question that asks people in more than 150 countries to rate their lives on a scale of zero to 10 -- with zero being the worst possible life and 10 being the best possible life. The latest rankings show Syrians, Burundians and Central Africans rating their lives the worst (about a 3.0) and people in the Nordic countries rating their lives the best (7.5 on average).

While the metric is known as "life satisfaction," there is some disagreement as to whether it should actually be labeled as "happiness." Regardless of what we call the metric, it's important to watch.

Brexit is not the only global event for which happiness metrics served as a leading indicator of broad citizen discomfort. Perhaps the most prominent example was the lead-up to the Arab uprisings. Even the most trustworthy indicators such as GDP and the U.N.'s Human Development Index proved unreliable in forecasting the uprisings in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and Bahrain. Happiness, on the other hand, told a different story. While GDP per capita grew in almost perfect linear fashion in all four Arab countries, happiness plummeted.

20170315_GlobalHappinessEgypt

Similar trends are seen in the lead-up to the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine. Since the revolution, Ukrainians' happiness ratings have been at record lows. In fact, Ukraine is the only European country near the bottom of the happiness list, ranking 132nd.

20170315_GlobalHappinessUkraine

Happiness might also determine how people vote, according to researchers at the London School of Economics. When comparing happiness data and election outcomes from 15 countries in Europe from 1973 to 2012, Professor George Ward found that "… a country's level of life satisfaction is a robust predictor of election results."

Using Gallup data from more than 150 countries, today's report again ranks the world's happiest countries. The information will be fun to consume -- especially for people who live in the world's happiest countries -- but leaders should pay close attention to the results. Measures of how people rate their lives are quickly becoming just as important as indicators of income and employment.

This year's happiest -- and unhappiest -- countries in the world are listed below.

These data are available in Gallup Analytics.

World Happiness Rankings
Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero 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 feel you stand at this time, assuming that the higher the step the better you feel about your life, and the lower the step the worse you feel about it? Which step comes closest to the way you feel?
Life Today
2014-2016
Norway 7.537
Denmark 7.522
Iceland 7.504
Switzerland 7.494
Finland 7.469
Netherlands 7.377
Canada 7.316
New Zealand 7.314
Australia 7.284
Sweden 7.284
Israel 7.213
Costa Rica 7.079
Austria 7.006
United States 6.993
Ireland 6.977
Germany 6.951
Belgium 6.891
Luxembourg 6.863
United Kingdom 6.714
Chile 6.652
United Arab Emirates 6.648
Brazil 6.635
Czech Republic 6.609
Argentina 6.599
Mexico 6.578
Singapore 6.572
Malta 6.527
Uruguay 6.454
Guatemala 6.454
Panama 6.452
France 6.442
Thailand 6.424
Taiwan 6.422
Spain 6.403
Qatar 6.375
Colombia 6.357
Saudi Arabia 6.344
Kuwait 6.105
Slovakia 6.098
Bahrain 6.087
Malaysia 6.084
Nicaragua 6.071
Ecuador 6.008
El Salvador 6.003
Poland 5.973
Uzbekistan 5.971
Italy 5.964
Russia 5.963
Belize 5.956
Japan 5.920
Lithuania 5.902
Algeria 5.872
Latvia 5.850
South Korea 5.838
Moldova 5.838
Romania 5.825
Bolivia 5.823
Turkmenistan 5.822
Kazakhstan 5.819
Northern Cyprus 5.810
Slovenia 5.758
Peru 5.715
Mauritius 5.629
Cyprus 5.621
Estonia 5.611
Belarus 5.569
Libya 5.525
Turkey 5.500
Paraguay 5.493
Hong Kong 5.472
Philippines 5.430
Serbia 5.395
Jordan 5.336
Hungary 5.324
Jamaica 5.311
Croatia 5.293
Kosovo 5.279
China 5.273
Pakistan 5.269
Indonesia 5.262
Venezuela 5.250
Montenegro 5.237
Morocco 5.235
Azerbaijan 5.234
Dominican Republic 5.230
Greece 5.227
Lebanon 5.225
Portugal 5.195
Bosnia and Herzegovina 5.182
Honduras 5.181
Macedonia 5.175
Somalia 5.151
Vietnam 5.074
Nigeria 5.074
Tajikistan 5.041
Bhutan 5.011
Kyrgyzstan 5.004
Nepal 4.962
Mongolia 4.955
South Africa 4.829
Tunisia 4.805
Palestinian Territories 4.775
Egypt 4.735
Bulgaria 4.714
Sierra Leone 4.709
Cameroon 4.695
Iran 4.692
Albania 4.644
Bangladesh 4.608
Namibia 4.574
Kenya 4.553
Mozambique 4.550
Myanmar 4.545
Senegal 4.535
Zambia 4.514
Iraq 4.497
Gabon 4.465
Ethiopia 4.460
Sri Lanka 4.440
Armenia 4.376
India 4.315
Mauritania 4.292
Congo (Brazzaville) 4.291
Georgia 4.286
Congo (Kinshasa) 4.280
Mali 4.190
Ivory Coast 4.180
Cambodia 4.168
Sudan 4.139
Ghana 4.120
Ukraine 4.096
Uganda 4.081
Burkina Faso 4.032
Niger 4.028
Malawi 3.970
Chad 3.936
Zimbabwe 3.875
Lesotho 3.808
Angola 3.795
Afghanistan 3.794
Botswana 3.766
Benin 3.657
Madagascar 3.644
Haiti 3.603
Yemen 3.593
South Sudan 3.591
Liberia 3.533
Guinea 3.507
Togo 3.495
Rwanda 3.471
Syria 3.462
Tanzania 3.349
Burundi 2.905
Central African Republic 2.693
Averages based on Gallup World Poll surveys conducted in 2014-2016
Gallup World Poll

Gallup


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