United Nations releases list of world's happiest countries

The list of 155 countries puts Australia in the top 10.

The United Nations has released their 2017 World Happiness Report – an effort aimed at focusing global leaders’ attention on the welfare of their fellow citizens rather than traditional, economic metrics such as GDP.

The report asked respondents to rank their happiness on scale of zero to 10 – with 10 representing the best possible life and zero representing their worst possible life.

The top countries were Western, developed countries – with Australia placing ninth.

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The 10 happiest countries:

1. Norway

2. Denmark

3. Iceland

4. Switzerland

5. Finland

6. The Netherlands

7. Canada

8. New Zealand

9. Australia

10. Sweden

While Australia stayed relatively stable, the United States slipped from 13th to 14th place.

America showed an increase in health and income, but those factors were overshadowed by lower social support, a reduced feeling of personal freedom, less generosity to charity and more perceived corruption.

Authors said that key factors affecting happiness included income, employment, education, family life, and mental and physical health.

They wrote that the six main factors which caused countries to move up and down were wealth per capita, life expectancy, social support, absence of corruption, freedom to make life decisions and generosity, measured by donations.

In Western countries such as Australia, mental illness turned out to be the most important determinant of happiness – above income, employment or physical wellbeing.

“In the most powerful effect would come from the elimination of depression and anxiety disorders, which are the main form of mental illness,” authors wrote.

The 10 ‘saddest’ countries:

146. Yemen

147. South Sudan

148. Liberia

149. Guinea

150. Togo

151. Rwanda

152. Syria

153. Tanzania

154. Burundi

155. Central African Republic

Authors said that income differences were more important in accounting for happiness in poorer countries, but that even in those countries mental illness was a major source of misery.

While citizens in Africa remain optimistic, authors wrote that their countries had not seen a major rise in happiness in recent years.

“African people’s expectations that they and their countries would flourish under self-rule and democracy appear not yet to have been met,” they wrote.

China ranked 79th in the study of 155 countries.

While the country made major economic strides in recent years, but its people are not happier than 25 years ago, the report found.

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Norway wins the lottery

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who is facing a tough re-election battle in September, welcomed Norway’s number one position as "a nice validation on a Monday morning.”

“For many years, Norway has been behind Denmark in this ranking,” she wrote on Facebook.

“But even if we top this statistic now we must continue to prioritize mental health care, to improve follow-up of children and young people because many are still struggling.”

Norway, the largest oil producer in Western Europe, is a prosperous country – despite a recent drop in oil prices – with a very generous welfare state.

Other studies have shown that Norway is one of the best countries at translating wealth into happiness

“We won the lottery,” Arne Larsen, a retired civil servant, told AFP in central Oslo.

“Oil is part of it, but you shouldn't exaggerate its importance because life was good in Norway before too.”

“I think it has more to do with fundamental societal factors: Norway is quite homogenous, it's a country where the gap between the state and the people is not very big, and where there is a lot of trust,” he said.

Thea Sofie Rusten Grastveit, who works as an advisor for a humanitarian agency, is getting ready to take a 16-month parental leave, which she will share 50-50 with her husband.

"One of the main reasons we can do all this is the oil money," she acknowledged. 

"We of course managed our resources well for the good of society, but we were also really lucky to have these resources," she said.

The World Happiness Report was released by the United Nations on the International Day of Happiness. It is the fifth such report since the first was published in 2012.

"Since then we have come a long way. Happiness is increasingly considered the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy," the report said.

While the 10 countries at the top remained the same as in a 2016 update, those in the bottom 10, which had the lowest life evaluations, showed greater variation.

- with AFP