22 March 2023
SDSN Report Urges Governments to Pursue “National Happiness”
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World Happiness Report 2023 leverages six factors “to help explain variation in self-reported levels of happiness across the world” – social support, income, health, freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption.

It examines the trends of how happiness is distributed among people, including the happiness gap between the top and the bottom halves of the population.

The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) – a global initiative that “mobilizes global scientific and technological expertise to promote practical solutions for sustainable development” – has published the 2023 edition of its World Happiness Report. The report uses Gallup’s World Poll data to assign rankings to countries based on self-reported levels of national happiness. For the sixth year in a row, Finland occupies the top position. The least “happy” country is Afghanistan.

The report notes that since its first edition was published more than ten years ago, there has been growing consensus about how to measure happiness, meaning that “national happiness can now become an operational objective for governments.” It further notes that human rights and the SDGs are “integral to happy lives rather than something that is either additional or in conflict with them.”

Written by a group of independent experts acting in their personal capacities, World Happiness Report 2023 leverages six factors “to help explain variation in self-reported levels of happiness across the world.” These are social support, income, health, freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption. 

The authors sought to answer the following questions:

  • What is the consensus view about measuring national happiness, and what kinds of behavior does it require of individuals and institutions?
  • How have trust and benevolence saved lives and supported happiness over the past three years of COVID-19 and other crises?
  • What is state effectiveness and how does it affect human happiness?
  • How does altruistic behavior by individuals affect their own happiness, that of the recipient, and the overall happiness of society?
  • How well does social media data enable us to measure the prevailing levels of happiness and distress?

The report examines the trends of how happiness is distributed among people, including the happiness gap between the top and the bottom halves of the population. “This gap,” an SDSN press release notes, “is small in countries where almost everyone is very unhappy, and in the top countries where almost no one is unhappy.” As a rule, “people are happier living in countries where the happiness gap is smaller.”

Another finding of note relates to acts of kindness. “For a second year, we see that various forms of everyday kindness, such as helping a stranger, donating to charity, and volunteering, are above pre-pandemic levels,” said Lara Aknin, Professor, Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, and one of the report’s co-authors. “Acts of kindness have been shown to both lead to and stem from greater happiness,” she noted.

This year’s report also looks at the available survey data from Ukraine, concluding that “the Russian invasion has forged Ukraine into a nation,” as noted by one of the report’s editors, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Director, Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford.

With Finland leading, Denmark, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and New Zealand make up the top ten happiest countries. The five countries with the least happy populations are, in reverse order, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The report was launched on 20 March 2023. On 12 April, the President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) will convene a scientific briefing on metrics beyond GDP. Also in April, the UN Secretary-General will release a policy brief on achieving a metric beyond GDP, to advance work on Our Common Agenda. [Publication: World Happiness Report 2023] [Executive Summary] [Publication Landing Page]

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