Forget buying that new car, opt for a scarf and gloves and head to Norway if you want to achieve true happiness, a new report suggests.
Renowned for its good public services, political stability and enviable gene pool, Norway can now also claim pole position as the happiest country on earth, having risen in the ranks to surpass Denmark and claim first place in this year’s World Happiness Report.
The study, which measures social factors alongside economic data, points to the limitations of financial factors in achieving happiness. Therefore, Norway vaulted ahead despite its economy being hit by the plummeting oil price, meanwhile happiness in the U.S. continues to wain despite incomes increasing.
“This report gives evidence that happiness is a result of creating strong social foundations. It’s time to build social trust and healthy lives, not guns or walls. Let’s hold our leaders to this fact,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which produced the report in association with the United Nations.
Norway sped ahead from fourth place last year to steal the top spot in the annual rankings, which combine economic, health and polling data on approximately 3,000 respondents in each of more than 150 countries. It is joined in the top five by fellow Nordic states Denmark, Iceland, Finland and central Europe’s Switzerland, which averaged a comparable happiness level of 7.5 out of 10.
The Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden were also placed in the top 10.
The U.S.’s happiness has slipped over the past year, however, the report suggests. Despite rising wages, overall happiness has fallen from 13th position globally to 14th, pointing to a need for a more comprehensive approach from government, the report suggests.
“The predominant political discourse in the United States is aimed at raising economic growth, with the goal of restoring the ‘American dream’ and the happiness that is supposed to accompany it. But the data show conclusively that this is the wrong approach,” said Sachs, in a section of the report entitled “Restoring American Happiness”.
Income per person has increased roughly three times since 1960, but measured happiness has not risen – indeed, it has dipped over the past decade from 7.5 out of 10, to 6.8 out of 10.
“The United States can and should raise happiness by addressing America’s multi-faceted social crisis— rising inequality, corruption, isolation, and distrust—rather than focusing exclusively or even mainly on economic growth, especially since the concrete proposals along these lines would exacerbate rather than ameliorate the deepening social crisis.”
The comments follow a recent speech by Helen Clark, head of the UN Development Program (UNDP), in which she spoke out against the “tyranny of GDP (gross domestic product)”, arguing that quality of growth is more important.
The U.S. ranked just ahead of Ireland, which took 15th place, and was followed by Germany in 16th, the U.K. in 19th and France in 31st.
However, economic factors remain a certain contributor to achieving social cohesion and overall happiness, the report finds. The ten bottom spots were taken by some of the world’s poorest countries, with happiness levels averaging approximately 3 out of ten.
These included Yemen, South Sudan, Liberia, Guinea, Togo, Rwanda, Syria, Tanzania, Burundi and Central African Republic.