Scandinavia’s reign as the happiest place on Earth is ending

Sort of.

According to WIRED:

When it comes to happiness, Scandinavia – a group of countries made up of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – seriously outperforms its peers. In the last five editions of the World Happiness Report, no Scandinavian country has ever appeared outside the top ten. The last time a Scandinavian country didn’t make it into the top ten was the first report, in 2012, when Iceland came in at a comparatively miserable 20th happiest country in the world. (In the last two reports, it has comfortably idled in fourth place).

Yet it’s important to note what they mean by ‘happy’.

The main rankings in the World Happiness Reports don’t focus on how happy people feel at a specific point at time, instead they ask them to evaluate their life as a whole on a scale where zero indicates the worst possible life and ten indicates the best. What most of us think of as happiness – giddy carelessness that’s here one minute and gone the next – is called affective happiness by researchers. In 2012, when Denmark ranked top in the World Happiness Report, it was actually 100th in the world in terms of affective happiness. And as Birkjær’s own research has noted, there are rising levels of unhappiness in Denmark, particularly when it comes to young people.

It’s the sort of thing that crops in conversation – what the report is really measuring is quality of life. Not are you happy with your life right now but do you feel your country gives you a good quality of life and most Scandinavians feel pretty good about the second even when they don’t feel all that great about the first.

It then makes an important point about how Scandinavian societies are organised.

What Scandinavia really excels at is minimising unhappiness. The Scandinavian systems of free education and healthcare and strong social welfare policies are powerful inoculations against misery, but they’re not exactly likely to send citizens light-headed with joy.

But apparently there are competitors although the article only really mentioned one: New Zealand so the Nordic nations are unlikely to slip too far down the rankings.

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