7 things to know about the 2017 World Happiness Report

The Donald Trump administration may have caused the United States to fall one spot to No. 14 in this year's report.
The Donald Trump administration may have caused the United States to fall one spot to No. 14 in this year's report.PHOTO: REUTERS

The latest World Happiness Report was released on Monday (March 20), the fifth since the inaugural edition in 2012.

Norway displaced Denmark as the world's happiest country among the 155 countries surveyed.

The aim of the report, said Mr Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General, is to provide another tool for governments, businesses and civil societies to help their countries find a better way to well-being.

Here are seven things you should know about the report before drawing your own conclusions:

1. The recipe for happiness?

Each country's score is broken down into seven components.

Here are the first six: per capita gross domestic product (GDP), healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, social support and absence of corruption in government or business.

Disagree that happiness is the sum of these six variables? So did the survey's respondents - the seventh component is based on how survey responses differed from the predicted value derived from the first six components.

In particular, the countries of East Asia had average life evaluations below those predicted by the survey's model, a finding that has been thought to partially reflect cultural differences in response style.

The fact that people can be happier than they say they are should come as no surprise to Singaporeans - who have made a national sport of complaining.

2. Some components are more important than others

According to the report, the biggest average differences between the scores of happy and unhappy countries were from social support, GDP per capita and healthy life expectancy.

3. Singapore is less happy compared with last year, but still the happiest Asian country

Singapore is ranked 26th, down from 22nd last year and 24th in 2015. However, the Republic has been ranked the happiest Asian country since 2015.

Trailing behind are Thailand, Taiwan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Not-so-fun fact for those who prefer to look on the darker side of things: In terms of changes in happiness levels from 2005-2007 to 2014-2016, Singapore is ranked 80th (of 126 countries) with a slight decrease in happiness.

Malaysia, at 77th, also became unhappier but marginally less so. Central American nation Nicaragua's happiness increased by the most within that period.

 

4. The US: Happiness gets Trumped

While the United States fell just one spot to No. 14 in this year's report, this belies the overall decline in happiness from 2005-2007 to 2014-2016.

The US' score fell by 0.372 points, and is in the bottom 25 for changes in happiness.

To put this number in perspective, Singapore's score fell by 0.068 points over the same period.

Mr Sachs said the US is falling in the ranking due to inequality, distrust and corruption. Economic measures that the administration of President Donald Trump is trying to pursue, he added, will make things worse.

"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," he explained.

5. What about Bhutan?

Apocryphally regarded as the happiest nation in the world for inventing the Gross National Happiness metric, Bhutan has somehow never performed well on the Happiness Report. Bhutan is ranked 97th this year, falling 13 spots from 2016. One possible reason for Bhutan's ranking is its relatively low GDP per capita compared with Scandinavian countries that dominate the top 10, for example.

On the other hand, the 2016 report also looked at happiness equality, or how narrow or wide was the difference between the respondents in a country who were happiest and those who were unhappiest.

Bhutan came up tops in this category, with Singapore coming in 4th.

6. Country happiness averages are based on resident populations

This means that the calculation of happiness scores is not restricted to citizens of a country, a factor that can make a big difference in countries such as Qatar and the UAE, where non-citizens are estimated to make up over 80 per cent of the country's population.

7. The recipe for unhappiness?

Crises that are both severe and long-lasting are often the culprits in countries that saw the biggest decline in happiness from 2005-2007 to 2014-2016.

Bottom-ranked Venezuela (of 126 countries) is currently in the grips of an economic crisis marked by chronic food and power shortages.

Civil war broke out in Yemen (120th) in 2015 and is still ongoing, while Ukraine (122nd) is still recovering from the 2014 crisis which saw the annexation of Crimea by Russia.