As the coronavirus crisis sweeps Israel, with 945 total cases reported in the country as of Sunday morning, there is still some happy news to add to the mix. Israel came in 14th in the latest annual United Nations World Happiness Report for 2020 published on Friday.
The country slipped one spot from last year’s survey and three spots from its 11th place finish in 2018, a rank it held consecutively for five years previously.
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The report ranks countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be according to six key variables: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and freedom from corruption. This year, 153 countries were ranked in the report.
Finland nabbed the top spot for the third year in a row, followed by Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway rounding out the top five. The Netherlands ranked six, Sweden seventh, New Zealand eighth, Austria ninth, and Luxembourg closed out the top 10. Canada and Australia took the 11th and 12th spots, followed by the United Kingdom, just before Israel. The United States notched up one spot from last year to 18th place. The last spot for the least happy nation, 153, went to Afghanistan.
The UN’s World Happiness Report has been released yearly since 2012 by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).
The report is published yearly on the International Day of Happiness marked on March 20th. The document’s editors address the current global pandemic, explaining that while they do not make forecasts about future happiness, crises of the past have “led sometimes to surprising increases in happiness in the wake of what might otherwise seem to be unmitigated disasters.”
“The most frequent explanation seems to be that people are pleasantly surprised by the willingness of their neighbors and their institutions to work in harness to help each other. This delivers a heightened sense of belonging, and pride in what they have been able to achieve by way of mitigation. These gains are sometimes great enough to compensate for the material losses,” they said.
The editors said that they expect to find when 2020 is over that “countries and communities that react according to this advice will be the ones whose happiness is best sustained.”
This year’s report also focused on “environments for happiness, with special attention to the social environment, happiness in cities and rural areas, and the natural environment, including links between happiness and sustainable development.”
“The World Happiness Report has proven to be an indispensable tool for policymakers looking to better understand what makes people happy and thereby to promote the wellbeing of their citizenry,” said Jeffrey Sachs, the director of SDSN and the Earth Institute’s Center on Sustainable Development. “Time and again we see the reasons for wellbeing include good social support networks, social trust, honest governments, safe environments, and healthy lives.”
In addition to the country rankings, the report also – for the first time –ranked cities around the world by their subjective well-being.
“Cities clearly play an important role in economic growth and human interaction,” the report’s editors said in a press release. “As populations continue to move from rural to urban areas further straining resources and infrastructure, understanding sources of happiness becomes that much more vital. Not only does the report take a careful look at how happiness compares between cities globally, it assesses how happy urban dwellers are compared to their counterparts in the same country.”
Tel Aviv came in at number eight, with Jerusalem at 33. The happiest city in the world, according to the report, is Helsinki, the capital of Finland (surprise!) with the Danish city of Aarhus coming in second. Wellington (New Zealand) ranked third among the happiest cities and Zurich came in fourth. Rounding out the top five was another Danish city – Copenhagen, the country’s capital
“Generally, we find that the average happiness of city residents is more often than not higher than the average happiness of the general country population, especially in countries at the lower end of economic development,” said Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, director of the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford and one of the editors of the report. “But this urban happiness advantage evaporates and sometimes turns negative for cities in high-income countries, suggesting that the search for happiness may well be more fruitful when looking to live in more rural areas.”