How happy are you: Measuring happiness across countries and generations

Experts use responses from people in more than 140 nations to rank the world’s ‘happiest’ countries in the World Happiness Report. As Jon Clifton, CEO of Gallup, commented, “Our role in research on World Happiness is a natural fit with our longstanding mission: providing leaders with the right information about what people say makes life worthwhile.”

In 2024, Finland tops the overall list for the seventh successive year. Significantly, the United States of America (23rd) has fallen out of the top 20 for the first time since the World Happiness Report was first published in 2012, driven by a large drop in the well-being of Americans under 30. Afghanistan remains at the bottom of the overall rankings as the world’s least happy nation.

Serbia (37th) and Bulgaria (81st) have had the biggest increases in average life evaluation scores since they were first measured by the Gallup World Poll in 2013. This is reflected in the climb up the rankings between the World Happiness Report 2013 and this 2024 edition, of 69 places for Serbia and 63 places for Bulgaria.

Rankings are based on a three-year average of each population’s average assessment of their quality of life. Interdisciplinary experts from the fields of economics, psychology, sociology, and beyond then attempt to explain the variations across countries and over time using factors such as GDP, life expectancy, having someone to count on, a sense of freedom, generosity, and perceptions of corruption. These factors help to explain the differences across nations, while the rankings themselves are based only on the answers people give when asked to rate their own lives.

For the first time, the report gives separate rankings by age group, in many cases varying widely from the overall rankings. Prof John F. Helliwell, a founding Editor of the World Happiness Report, said, “There is a great variety among countries in the relative happiness of the younger, older, and in-between populations.” Lithuania tops the list for children and young people under 30, while Denmark is the world’s happiest nation for those 60 and older.

Observing the state of happiness among the world’s children and adolescent population, researchers found that, globally, young people aged 15 to 24 report higher life satisfaction than older adults, but this gap is narrowing in Europe and recently reversed in North America.

In comparing generations, those born before 1965 are, on average, happier than those born since 1980. Among Millennials, evaluation of one’s own life drops with each year of age, while among Boomers, life satisfaction increases with age.

Further work examines the relationship between well-being and dementia, identified as a significant area of research in a globally aging population. Researchers highlight not only the impact of dementia on the well-being of individuals but also the demonstrable predictive power of higher well-being to reduce the risk of developing the disease in later life.

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