Despite war and COVID, happiness is on the rise worldwide

MONTREAL, Quebec — Despite an ongoing pandemic and the threat of war in Europe, this year’s World Happiness Report has found a silver lining during these troubling times. Researchers have found that the pandemic has led to more social support and benevolence throughout the world.

For the 10th year in a row, the global survey examined how over nine million people across 150 countries evaluate their own lives. The findings show that people around the globe are rallying together during this unprecedented time of need.

“COVID-19 is the biggest health crisis we’ve seen in more than a century,” says Professor John Helliwell from the University of British Columbia in a media release. “Now that we have two years of evidence, we are able to assess not just the importance of benevolence and trust, but to see how they have contributed to well-being during the pandemic.”

“We found during 2021 remarkable worldwide growth in all three acts of kindness monitored in the Gallup World Poll. Helping strangers, volunteering, and donations in 2021 were strongly up in every part of the world, reaching levels almost 25% above their pre-pandemic prevalence. This surge of benevolence, which was especially great for the helping of strangers, provides powerful evidence that people respond to help others in need, creating in the process more happiness for the beneficiaries, good examples for others to follow, and better lives for themselves,” Helliwell adds.

The happiest place on Earth is… Finland?

Nordic countries may not get a lot of publicity as incredibly fun tourist destinations, but don’t tell that to the people living in Finland. The nation ranks as the happiest place on Earth for the fifth year in a row. Overall, on a scale of 0 to 10, the average life evaluation score in Finland was 7.8 — significantly higher than the next closest nations.

Rounding out the top are Finland’s nearby neighbors of Denmark (7.63), Iceland (7.55), Switzerland (7.51), and the Netherlands (7.41). Locally, the United States appears to be moving on from a tumultuous election and the COVID-19 pandemic, as the nation’s happiness rank jumped from 19th to 16th in this year’s report. Meanwhile, Canada saw their score drop, finishing just ahead of their neighbors in the U.S. A decade ago, Canada actually sat in fifth place in the first World Happiness Report.

“The downward trend for Canada is significant and has been going on steadily for years. While Canada once ranked beside the Scandinavian countries, it now ranks closer to the United States in people’s overall evaluation of how good their lives felt,” says Professor Christopher Barrington-Leigh of McGill University.

War has a major impact on happiness

There has been no shortage of global conflicts around the world in recent years and the new report finds some areas are feeling the fallout of years of war. Researchers found Lebanon, Venezuela, and Afghanistan had the largest declines in happiness, with Afghanistan finishing at the bottom of the 2022 list with a score of 2.4.

“At the very bottom of the ranking we find societies that suffer from conflict and extreme poverty, notably we find that people in Afghanistan evaluate the quality of their own lives as merely 2.4 out of 10. This presents a stark reminder of the material and immaterial damage that war does to its many victims and the fundamental importance of peace and stability for human wellbeing,” adds Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, the Director of the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford.

On a related note, the three-year average from 2019 to 2021 puts Ukraine in 98th place with a score of 5.08. The report’s 11th annual rankings will likely reveal the toll the country’s ongoing crisis has taken on its population.