The United Nations has released its annual World Happiness Report, at a time when the world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. It found that Finland was the happiest country for the fourth consecutive year during 2020, with Iceland in second place.

The report, which ranks 149 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be, concentrates this year on the effects of COVID-19 and how people all over the world have fared. Released to mark the UN's annual International Day of Happiness on 20 March, it aims to focus on the effects of COVID-19 on the structure and quality of people’s lives, and also to describe and evaluate how governments all over the world have dealt with the pandemic. In particular, it endeavors to try to explain why some countries have done so much better than others over the past year.

Kirkjufell Aurora Borealis in Iceland
Iceland is the second happiest country in the world © Santi Sukarnjanaprai/Getty Images

With Finland and Iceland coming in first and second place, Denmark is in third place, followed by Switzerland and The Netherlands. Countries were ranked on six key variables including per capita income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity. Sweden came sixth, followed by Germany, Norway, New Zealand and Austria. The US went up four places from last year to come in at number 14.

The report, issued by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, found that there has been surprising resilience in how people rate their lives overall. The pandemic’s worst effect has been the two million deaths and there has been greater economic insecurity, anxiety, disruption of every aspect of life, including, for many people, stress and challenges to mental and physical health. Emotions changed more than life satisfaction did during the first year of COVID-19, worsening more during lockdown and recovering faster.

For the world as a whole, there was no overall change in positive affect, but there was a roughly 10% increase in the number of people who said they were worried or sad the previous day. The report found that factors supporting successful COVID-19 strategies include confidence in public institutions, whether the country had, or learned from, the lessons from SARS and other earlier pandemics, and whether the head of the government was a woman. To see the full results of the ninth World Happiness Report 2021, please see here.

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This article was first published Mar 20, 2020 and updated Mar 22, 2021.

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