The annual World Happiness Report, overseen by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and established by Ban Ki-moon in 2012, has consistently featured a list of the world’s happiest nations. Over the past decade, Scandinavian countries have dominated this list, a trend that continues in the latest 2023 report. These countries, namely Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland, and the Faroe Islands, are collectively referred to as Scandinavian. But what factors contribute to the sustained happiness in these nations? To understand this, we must delve into the methodology behind the report’s creation.
How is the World Happiness Report Compiled?
The World Happiness Report draws from diverse data sources and surveys. It employs two main categories of indicators: objective and subjective. In the realm of objective indicators, the SDSN assesses per capita GDP (income), life expectancy, social cohesion, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and the perception of corruption. Subjective indicators are based on people’s own evaluations of their lives, using data from Gallup world polls and other sources like the World Values Survey. These subjective and objective scores are then harmonized to generate a ranked list of happiness.
Subjective indicators, in many ways, rely on the foundation provided by objective indicators. A person’s optimism about life often hinges on the quality of the social, political, and economic system they inhabit. Thus, a focus on objective indicators is crucial to understanding why people in a given country tend to report high levels of happiness.
Why Are Scandinavians Particularly Happy?
Happiness is not a product of a single factor; rather, it emerges from a complex interplay of various elements. For Scandinavians in Northern Europe, their high rankings on the happiness index can be attributed to their success across six key criteria, primarily shaped by their social democratic systems:
Welfare Political Systems
Modern states are expected to safeguard the fundamental rights of all citizens, regardless of factors like religion, caste, sex, or nationality. Democracies, like those in Scandinavia, excel at this by ensuring accountability, reducing corruption, promoting economic prosperity, and providing robust social protection, including free education and healthcare.
A Society Based on Equality and Justice
A society’s commitment to equality and fairness significantly impacts the happiness of its inhabitants. Scandinavian countries prioritize social cooperation, generosity, and social safety nets. Government support starts early, with free education and healthcare for all citizens, and extends to maternity leave for women.
Scandinavian nations operate as welfare capitalist states. They participate in international trade while emphasizing social welfare programs such as universal education and healthcare. This balanced approach results in reduced income inequality, lower depression rates, and a better quality of life.
A Culture of Generosity and Freedom
Scandinavian culture is characterized by trust, equality, generosity, openness, and transparency. Unlike some regions where distrust toward the government is common, Scandinavians have a strong sense of trust in their public institutions. This cultural foundation shapes their overall happiness.
Sense of Freedom
Scandinavians value their sense of freedom, an essential aspect of their happiness. Economic and social emancipation contribute to their contentment, along with a strong focus on public safety.
Despite challenging weather conditions, Scandinavians maintain high levels of happiness thanks to their well-established state systems, a culture of social cooperation and generosity, economic security, and a strong sense of freedom. These factors collectively contribute to the enduring happiness observed in this region.