Measuring subjective ideas like happiness and life satisfaction is tricky business.
This article was written by Avery Koop and originally published by Visual Capitalist.
Are wealth and prosperity legitimate measures of happiness? How about safety and health outcomes? In the West, we view democracy as a key component to happiness, yet there are countries under authoritarian rule that score high in the Happiness Index. Questions like these make “ranking happiness” a particularly challenging puzzle, but also one worth pursuing. If policymakers have a clearer picture of what conditions can foster happiness, they can enact policies that can improve the lives of people living their jurisdictions.
The map above is a global snapshot of life satisfaction around the world. It utilizes the World Happiness Report—an annual survey of how satisfied citizens are worldwide—to map out the world’s happiest and least happy countries.
To create the index the map is based on, researchers simply asked people how satisfied they are with their lives. Scores were assigned using these self-reported answers from people living within various countries, as well as quality of life factors. While there may be no perfect measure of happiness around the world, the report is a robust and transparent attempt to understand happiness at the global level. For more detailed notes on the report’s methodology and more, we recommend viewing the info box at the end of this article.
Now, let’s look at the world’s happiest countries in 2023.
Global Happiness, by Country
Global happiness currently averages out to 5.5 out of 10, a decrease of 0.1 from last year. Below is a look at every country’s score:
The top ten countries:
European countries make up the bulk of the top 10, with Israel (#4) and New Zealand (#10) also making it into the top ranks. Finland sits at the very top of the ranking for the sixth year in a row.
Now let’s look at the world’s happiest countries on a more regional basis.
Current Mood: Happy (6.3)
North America’s happiness score averages out to 6.3/10. The happiest country in the region is Canada, slightly beating out the United States. However, the scores of both countries have actually decreased from last year. It’s difficult to pinpoint why citizens feel less satisfied, but inflation, economic uncertainty, and many other factors could play a role.
The only countries to see improvement in North America were Nicaragua and Jamaica. Although a more recent development, many Jamaicans could be experiencing even more happiness in the near future, with a recent announcement of plans to increase the minimum wage by 44%.
Current Mood: Content (5.8)
South America’s average score is 5.8. Although Venezuela is the continent’s least happy country, its score actually improved from 4.9 to 5.2. That said, the ongoing humanitarian and economic crisis is not likely to instill much hope into the average Venezuelan. Over 6.8 million people have fled the struggling nation since 2014.
The two countries in the region with decreased scores were Brazil and Colombia, where citizens have reported feeling worse compared to the year before.
Current Mood: Happy (6.4)
Europe has some of the world’s happiest countries, with an average regional score of 6.4. Nordic countries like Finland, Sweden, and Iceland repeatedly report high scores, meaning people in these countries feel extremely satisfied with their lives.
Despite fending off an invasion, Ukrainians saw no diminishment of their happiness year-over-year, and many are feeling resilient and purposeful in their fight for freedom. Interestingly, Russia’s score actually increased slightly compared to last year, going from 5.5 to 5.7.
East Asia and Oceania
Current Mood: Neutral (5.6)
East Asia and Oceania’s collective average is 5.6. Oceania alone, however, would have the highest regional score in the world, at 7.1.
Bucking conventional wisdom—at least in the West—China has seen a noteworthy bump (+0.6) in its score in recent years. Across the strait, Taiwan records the second highest score in East Asia, after Singapore.
India once again has the lowest happiness score in its region. The country’s score has dropped -0.7 over the past decade.
Central Asia and The Middle East
Current Mood: It’s Complicated (5.2)
The average score in the Middle East and Central Asia is 5.2, and the array of happiness scores is wider than in any other region.
Afghanistan is the world’s least happy country, with citizens having reported extremely low levels of life satisfaction. Since the Taliban takeover, life has become objectively worse for Afghans, particularly women.
There is a lot of conflict in the region. Citizens of Armenia face particular tension with neighboring Azerbaijan, whose score was not recorded for this year. Conflicts in the Nagorno-Karabakh region have led to hundreds of deaths since 2020 and cause daily struggle for those who live in the disputed territory. Iran is still under economic sanctions and faces ongoing tensions with the U.S. and Israel. Some countries, like Syria and Yemen, are so destabilized that no data is available.
Still, there are bright spots as well. Israel has one of the world’s happiest countries with a top 10 score this year, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE have scores on par with many European countries.
Current Mood: Unhappy (4.4)
The least happy region, Africa, averages out to a score of 4.4, and there is a lot of regional variation.
The highest score in Africa goes to the island nation of Mauritius. In addition to the country’s natural beauty and stability, there is growing economic opportunity. Mauritius is classified as an upper-middle-income country by World Bank, and is one of the fastest growing high-income markets in the world.
Sierra Leone has the lowest score of African countries that were included in the index, followed by Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s worth noting, there are a few data gaps in the region, including Burundi, which is currently the poorest country in the world.