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UN report: Norway is now the happiest nation on Earth

A recent United Nations report ranked the Scandinavian country as the number-one nation on Earth, in terms of happiness.

Norwegian fans wait for the beginning of the women's semifinal handball match between Norway and Russia at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016. A global happiness report has made the Norwegian foreign minister, well, happy.
Matthias Schrader/AP | Caption

Move over, Disneyland: Norway has taken the crown for the happiest place on Earth, according to the United Nations.

On Monday, World Happiness Day, the UN released its 2017 World Happiness Report, which ranks 155 countries based on the overall happiness of each nation’s citizens.

The latest report, the fifth overall since the UN launched the program in 2012, lists Norway as the world’s happiest country. The Nordic nation rose to the top from fourth place in 2016, and replaces Denmark, which took the top spot last year.

Utilizing information pulled from 2014-16, the index centers around one basic principle, a concept formerly referred to as “life satisfaction,” and now simply called happiness.

The report’s independent researchers poll about 1,000 people each year in each of the 155 countries and ask them questions designed to reveal their individual overall happiness. 

“Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top,” begins the examination. “The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”

By averaging the resulting scores, the researchers then combine the information gleaned from such subjective opinions with more empirical data based on six key variables: each nation’s gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity, and the general absence of corruption within the country.

Analysts found that roughly half of the variations in the life evaluation questionnaires stem from two of the six variables: GDP per capita and healthy life expectancy.

While Norway rose to the top in the most recent report, the top four countries “are clustered so tightly that the differences among them are not statistically significant,” the authors note.

The remaining three countries in question are, listed in order, Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland.

Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a UN-launched initiative which produces the report, told India Today that the results can be explained by the fact that “happy countries are the ones that have a healthy balance of prosperity, as conventionally measured, and social capital, meaning a high degree of trust in a society, low inequality and confidence in government.”

The United States, on the other hand, is falling, Mr. Sachs noted, saying that the new administration's policies may worsen problems of inequality and economics.

"They are all aimed at increasing inequality – tax cuts at the top, throwing people off the healthcare rolls, cutting Meals on Wheels in order to raise military spending. I think everything that has been proposed goes in the wrong direction," Sachs continued.

A Gallup analysis points out that Britain's Brexit might not have come as such a surprise, if analysts had looked at "happiness" data rather than economic indicators. According to Gallup's Jon Clifton, "the 15-percentage-point decline in the percentage of people [within the UK] rating their lives positively enough to be considered thriving was so dramatic that it remains among the largest two-year drops in Gallup's history of global tracking."

Similarly, Gallup showed that while factors such as GDP and the United Nation’s Human Development Index failed to predict the Arab Spring uprisings, the happiness index in those countries plummeted in the time leading up to the major events.

Perhaps the factors that effectively demonstrate a nation’s overall happiness can be used to understand local satisfaction, as well.

Just last week, the personal finance website WalletHub’s 2017 “Happiest Places to Live” ranking showed that eight of the top 10 US cities were in California.

The website's researchers analyzed 150 US cities on three specific elements: emotional and physical well-being, income and employment, and community and environment. The subsequently averaged data provided WalletHub with their overall rankings.

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