Each Country Is Happy in Its Own Way


We steal a glance at the findings of the World Happiness Report 2024 and how they align with countries’ economic development climates.


Proximity to nature reinforces the good feelings of trust and freedom Finns already possess, says Business Finland.

Photo courtesy of Julia Kivelä and Finnish Lakeland Jyväskylä Region

Leo Tolstoy famously wrote in “Anna Karenina” that “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Could countries be the same? Or might their happinesses be just as unique as their challenges?

That’s one of many questions raised by delving into the World Happiness Report published in March by a partnership among Gallup, the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the World Happiness Report’s Editorial Board.

A 10-point index finds fun-loving Finland is No. 1. 😀 Afghanistan ranks as the least happy country in the world. Once again, lands to the north — with exceptions of No. 5 Israel, near-northern Luxembourg at No. 8 and No. 10 Australia — occupy most of the top 10 spots, followed by southern hemisphere nations New Zealand, Costa Rica and Kuwait.



The United States finishes expressionless at No. 23 with Germany at No. 24, just behind Slovenia at No. 21 and the United Arab Emirates at No. 22. 😐 The report notes the U.S. and Germany have been displaced from the top 20 due to a rising happiness quotient across several Eastern European countries. “The countries of Central and Eastern Europe have had the largest increase in happiness — by similar amounts in all age groups,” says the report. “The gains in the former Soviet Union were half as large.”

Business Finland ascribes the country’s top ranking to the high levels of trust and freedom in its society. “Finland consistently ranks among the best in the world for transparency and the perceived lack of corruption,” the organization stated after the index was released. “Finns tend to trust their neighbors, public officials and their government. Finland is ranked highly for political, civil and press freedom. Additionally, both individuals and institutions experience high levels of freedom.”

“In a well-functioning, fair and equal society, people can worry less and concentrate on living their lives,” said Elisabet Lahti, PhD, applied psychology researcher, author of “Gentle Power” and founder of Sisu Lab. “Poor life decisions or bad luck don’t necessarily have to mean falling too far behind. To feel safe is one of our primal needs and if we’re not safe, we’re not able to relax into co-creation and innovation.”

Lahti’s lab is named for a concept Finland claims just as closely as the Danish covet the cuddly concept of hygge. In this case the word is sisu, which combines grit, resilience and determination with what Lahti calls an aspiration for quality in how things are done. Proximity to nature doesn’t hurt either. “In Finland, you are never more than a 10-minute walk from a park or forest,” says Business Finland.


“In a well-functioning, fair and equal society, people can worry less and concentrate on living their lives.”
— Elisabet Lahti, PhD, author of “Gentle Power”

Among the report’s other findings:

  • “Among those born after 1980, happiness falls with each year of age. Among those born before 1965, life evaluations rise with age.”
  • “Since 2006-10, the inequality of happiness has increased in every region except Europe.”
  • “Older age is associated with higher life satisfaction in India, refuting some claims that the positive association between age and life satisfaction only exists in high-income nations.”
  • “Females start to report lower life satisfaction than males at around age 12 and the gap further expands between age 13 to 15.”

You know happiness is serious business when it’s indexed to nine decimal places. Here are the top 20 places with their decimalized scores:

Country Happiness Index Score
Ranking of Happiness
Finland 7.740706249 1
Denmark 7.58272109 2
Iceland 7.525146589 3
Sweden 7.344070278 4
Israel 7.341059189 5
Netherlands 7.319363078 6
Norway 7.301683378 7
Luxembourg 7.121891693 8
Switzerland 7.060171933 9
Australia 7.056941782 10
New Zealand 7.029207121 11
Costa Rica 6.955442792 12
Kuwait 6.951442382 13
Austria 6.904712832 14
Canada 6.899605575 15
Belgium 6.894229001 16
Ireland 6.837999592 17
Czech Republic 6.821778872 18
Lithuania 6.817449903 19
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 6.748967346 20

The full report, however, looks at happiness through the prism of various life stages. Finnish youth, it turns out, aren’t nearly as giddy as their elders. If we only listened to those under 30 years of age, we’d learn their happy place is Lithuania, which edges out Israel and Serbia.

How happy are the happiest countries’ investment climates?

When the top 20 happiest countries above are compared to the top 10 overall and top 10 per-capita countries in Site Selection’s indexed 2023 Global Best to Invest rankings, only six countries appear somewhere in both reports: Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom (with Canada, Sweden and the UK the only ones to make both of Site Selection lists). The Site Selection index includes corporate facility project tallies as well as inward FDI and other figures from OECD, IMD, Milken Institute and UNCTAD.

The 2024 Global Best to Invest rankings will be unveiled in Site Selection’s May 2024 issue and are embargoed until May 1. But here’s a teaser: Several of the world’s happiest countries appear to have economic reasons to be so giddy, including appearances this year from countries that did not make last year’s lists. Among them: Luxembourg, Denmark and, you guessed it, Finland. Overall, eight of the top 20 happiest countries will be featured in this year’s Global Best to Invest rankings and four of the Global Best to Invest top 10 metros hail from those happy countries too. - Adam Bruns



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