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Israel drops one place to 5th in global happiness list

Israel dropped down one spot to fifth place in the World Happiness rankings for 2024 revealed on Wednesday, though the findings predated the Hamas massacre of October 7 and the subsequent war in Gaza. Israel’s 2024 fifth-place ranking was one spot down from the 2023 list, when it placed fourth, its highest position since the UN-sponsored index began publication in 2012. Israel ranked ninth in 2022.

Finland remained the world’s happiest country for a seventh straight year in the annual UN sponsored World Happiness Report, published on Wednesday. And Nordic countries kept their places among the 10 most cheerful, with Denmark, Iceland and Sweden trailing Finland.

The annual World Happiness Report, launched in 2012 to support the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, is based on data from US market research company Gallup, analysed by a global team now led by the University of Oxford.

People in 143 countries and territories are asked to evaluate their life on a scale from zero to 10, with 10 representing their best possible life. Results from the past three years (2021-2023) are averaged to create a ranking. In addition to self-assessed evaluations of life satisfaction, the happiness ranking is also based on GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity and corruption.

Afghanistan, plagued by a humanitarian catastrophe since the Taliban regained control in 2020, stayed at the bottom of the 143 countries surveyed in the report.

For the first time since the report was published more than a decade ago, the United States and Germany were not among the 20 happiest nations, coming in 23rd (down from 15th last year) and 24th respectively. In turn, Costa Rica and Kuwait entered the top 20 at 12 and 13.

The report noted the happiest countries no longer included any of the world’s largest countries. “In the top 10 countries only the Netherlands and Australia have populations over 15 million. In the whole of the top 20, only Canada and the UK have populations over 30 million.”

Canada came in 15th in the ranking and the UK placed in the 20th position (down from 19th last year).

The sharpest decline in happiness since 2006-10 was noted in Afghanistan, Lebanon and Jordan, while the Eastern European countries Serbia, Bulgaria and Latvia reported the biggest increases.

Growing inequality

Jennifer De Paola, a happiness researcher at the University of Helsinki in Finland, told AFP that Finns’ close connection to nature and healthy work-life balance were key contributors to their life satisfaction.

In addition, Finns may have a “more attainable understanding of what a successful life is”, compared to for example the United States where success is often equated with financial gain, she said. Finns’ strong welfare society, trust in state authorities, low levels of corruption and free healthcare and education were also key. “Finnish society is permeated by a sense of trust, freedom, and high level of autonomy,” De Paola said.

This year’s report also found that younger generations were happier than their older peers in most of the world’s regions — but not all. While a global ranking of the happiness of those aged 60 and over would place the United States 10th, under 30s’ life evaluations alone put the United States in 62nd place.

The findings are at odds with much previous research into wellbeing, which found happiness highest in childhood and early teens, before falling to its lowest in middle age, then rising around retirement. “Youth, especially in North America, are experiencing a mid-life crisis today,” said Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, a University of Oxford economics professor and one of the report’s editors.

In North America, Australia and New Zealand, happiness among groups under 30 has dropped dramatically since 2006-10, with older generations now happier than the young. Millennials and younger age groups in North America were significantly more likely than older age groups to report loneliness.

But De Neve said a range of factors was likely to be lowering young peoples’ happiness, including increased polarization over social issues, negative aspects of social media, and economic inequality that made it harder for young people to afford their own homes than in the past.

While the phenomenon is starkest in the United States, the age gap in wellbeing is also wide in Canada and Japan, and to a decreasing extent in France, Germany and Britain, which all lost ground in this year’s rankings.

By contrast, in central and Eastern Europe, happiness increased substantially at all ages during the same period, while in Western Europe people of all ages reported similar levels of happiness. Happiness inequality increased in every region except Europe, which authors described as a “worrying trend.”

The rise was especially distinct among the old and in Sub-Saharan Africa, reflecting inequalities in “income, education, health care, social acceptance, trust, and the presence of supportive social environments at the family, community and national levels,” the authors said.