Finland is the happiest country in the world, according to the World Happiness Report 2020. In a top ten list dominated by Nordic countries, Finland is followed by Denmark and Switzerland, with nine out of the ten happiest nations all being European.  

Happiest Countries in 2020

The happiest countries are generally the highly developed ones, with small or medium-sized economies. Many of these countries are extensive welfare states, with low crime rates, cross-border peace, and a high degree of democracy and freedom. The ten happiest nations on earth, according to the World Happiness Index 2020, are as follows.

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Switzerland
  4. Iceland
  5. Norway
  6. Netherlands
  7. Sweden
  8. New Zealand
  9. Austria
  10. Luxembourg
Iceland is the fourth happiest country in the world in 2020
Iceland is the fourth happiest country in the world in 2020

Least Happy Countries in 2020

The bottom end of the World Happiness Index 2020 is dominated by countries with on-going military conflicts, those marked by social disorder, and those with serious economic woes. Afghanistan – the center of America’s devastating War on Terror – is the least happy country in the world, with its territory divided between rival groups. India has dropped four places from last year to be also among the ten least happy nations on earth, ranked as follows.

  1. Afghanistan
  2. South Sudan
  3. Zimbabwe
  4. Rwanda
  5. Central African Republic
  6. Tanzania
  7. Botswana
  8. Yemen
  9. Malawi
  10. India

Other Countries

It is commonly expected that the most “powerful” countries would also be happiest ones, but this is far from the case. As the top-ten ranking indicates, there is hardly any major economic or military power whose residents are among the happiest in the world.

The United States is ranked 18 this year, while Russia has dropped five places from last year to 73. China has also dropped a place to 94. Among the European countries, United Kingdom (13), Germany (17), France (23), Spain (28), and Italy (30) are all among the top 30, though none of them is among the top ten. Brazil is ranked 32, while Japan is at 62.  

Regional Leaders

The world countries can be categorized into nine groups, based on their geographical location and per capita income levels. The happiest nation in each of these groups, along with its overall rank, is described as follows.

OECD: Finland (1), a Nordic country of 5.5 million people, has retained its place from last year as the happiest nation, not just among OECD countries, but in the entire world.

Europe (Non-OECD): Malta (22), a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea and home to barely half a million people, is the happiest non-OECD European country.

Latin America and the Caribbean: Costa Rica (15) is a Spanish-speaking country in Central America. It is the happiest country in the Americas after Canada.

Costa Rica is the happiest nation in Central America and the Caribbean
Costa Rica is the happiest nation in Central America and the Caribbean

Commonwealth of Independent States: Uzbekistan (38), located in the heart of Central Asia, is fast emerging from its Soviet past to improve its residents’ quality of living.  

East Asia (Non-OECD): Taiwan (25), described in World Happiness Report as “Taiwan Province of China” due to its disputed legal status, is among the happiest nations in Asia.

Southeast Asia: Singapore (31), the densely populated island city-state, is typically ranked among the top countries in other quality of life indexes.

South Asia: Pakistan (66) continues to be much happier compared to other South Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.  

Middle East and North Africa: United Arab Emirates (21), a rising cosmopolitan in the Gulf, is the happiest nation in the MENA region.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Mauritius (49), thriving on its tourism industry, is a prosperous island nation of barely 1.3 million people off the eastern coast of Africa.

Key Takeaways from World Happiness Report 2020

The World Happiness Report 2020 is focused largely on the social, natural, and urban environment of countries, as well as the sustainability of cities and their individual happiness levels. The main findings of World Happiness Report 2020 are as follows.

  • The biggest risks to happiness include bad health, discrimination, low income, unemployment, street violence, separation, divorce, and widowhood.
  • The greatest supports for well-being are social trust, institutional trust, high incomes, close social support, and meeting with friends.
  • In most countries, people living in cities tend to be happier than those living in rural areas.
  • The urban advantage is less prominent, and sometimes even negative, in the happiest countries due to improved quality of life in the rural areas.
  • The happiness rankings of the largest cities in each country largely correspond to the rankings of the respective countries to which they belong.
  • Air pollutants negatively impact the quality of life, leading to decreased happiness among people living in polluted environments.
United Arab Emirates is the happiest country in Middle East and North Africa
United Arab Emirates is the happiest country in the MENA region

Happiness Rankings Criteria

The World Happiness Report, prepared by a group of independent experts, is published annually by the United Nations. The scores for the 153 countries included in the index are based on an analysis of the past three years’ data and surveys, including the Gallup World Poll.

Read about the world’s top airlines in 2020 here

Six key variables are used to determine the country scores: per capita income (income per person), healthy life expectancy, perceived freedom, perceived corruption, social support, and generosity. Citizens’ perceptions about their country and quality of life, therefore, play an important part in determining these rankings.

The idea of measuring happiness was first adopted by a UN General Assembly resolution in 2011, with the Prime Minister of Bhutan playing a significant role in its development. Happiness indicators have since gained popularity as an alternative to per capita income figures that convey only one aspect of human well-being.

You can download the World Happiness Report 2020 here