Happiness thrives despite
a global pandemic

di Priscilla Pajdo del 24 March 2021

TORONTO - Spring is in the air; the weather is warming up and the longer daylight hours are some elements that invoke happiness. While feelings of joy and delight may be difficult to muster up during a global pandemic, some countries manage quite well on the jubilation spectrum.

In the annual World Happiness Report, (published by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network on March 19), Finland reclaims top spot among the 95 countries included in the 2021 report. In fact, five Nordic nations, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, have consistently ranked within the top ten for the past several years (Graph 1, below).

Canada was included in that top ten as recently as last year, ranked at number ten. Just one year later, the country dropped down the list to number fifteen, one position behind the US. Perhaps the impacts associated with the coronavirus pandemic such as illness, social isolation, financial hardship and death are enough to “slap the happy” out of anyone. Or at least drag you down a few notches.

Normally, the report collects data from surveys over the course of three years. The information is then complied into the list of the world’s happiest countries. This year, the independent researchers focused on 2020 to see how countries fared during the pandemic. The graph represents a selection of countries and where they rank on the list. The difference between the first and twenty-fifth spot is a mere 1.4 points.

The annual reports are created using a wide variety of data from the Gallup World Poll including the World Risk Poll by Lloyd’s Register Foundation. The measure of happiness is complex and researchers use multiple variables. Some key elements include: GDP per capita, freedom of choice, healthy life expectancy, confidence in government, social supports and generosity.

It is not enough to only consider personal wealth as a measure of happiness, but rather to include all these factors in the overall happiness equation.

In the case of Finland, survey data suggested a high level of mutual trust which may have protected more lives and livelihoods during the health crisis. Among the selection of countries in this data set, it also has one of the lowest Covid-19 death rates, 146 per million of population (Graph 2, below).

Other countries that fare lower on the happiness scale have some of the highest death rates attributable to Covid-19. The report also tries to uncover why fatality rates vary in different parts of the world. Take Europe, for instance, the countries of Spain, Italy and the UK have some of the highest Covid-19 death rates.

Several contributing factors account for the variation between countries. For one, the report considered the age of the population. Covid-19 has disproportionately affected seniors and those with multiple health conditions. Another element was whether the country was an island or in close proximity to other highly infected nations. Cultural differences, income inequalities and trust in government and public institutions were all contributing components.

So, regardless of where you live or where your country ranks on the happiness scale, if you are alive and well enough to read these words, then that in itself should be something to be happy about.

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