One thing you can say about humans is that we’re resilient little buggers and not even a pandemic can crush our spirits, a sentiment confirmed by the World Happiness Report 2021.
This year’s annual World Happiness Report 2021 wasn’t like previous years; living through a once-in-a-generation global pandemic will do that. Editors of the study focussed solely on data from 2020 for the rankings, with special attention given to two key factors: people’s trust in one another, and confidence in their government.
They found that while our emotions may have dramatically changed in the short term, the building blocks to satisfaction and contentment remain steady longer term. In fact, how people view the pandemic may have bolstered a sense of camaraderie.
“Surprisingly there was not, on average, a decline in well-being when measured by people’s own evaluation of their lives,” said report editor John Helliwell, a Professor at the University of British Columbia.
“One possible explanation is that people see COVID-19 as a common, outside threat affecting everybody and that this has generated a greater sense of solidarity and fellow-feeling”.
Produced by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the annual report ranks 149 countries based on gross domestic product per person, healthy life expectancy and the personal opinions of residents.
Respondents are asked to answer a series of surveys on topics like how much social support they feel they have when something goes wrong, their freedom to make life choices, how corrupt they feel their society to be and how generous they are.
Unsurprisingly, the rankings didn’t change that much year on year, with Finland taking out top spot for the fourth consecutive year in a row.
The top 10 includes multiple Scandinavian and European countries, along with New Zealand. Australia came in at #12, the same as last year.
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“We find year after year that life satisfaction is reported to be happiest in the social democracies of northern Europe,” report co-author Jeffrey Sachs told The Associated Press. “People feel secure in those countries, so trust is high. The government is seen to be credible and honest, and trust in each other is high.”
Furthermore, all the countries in the top 10 took swift and effective action against COVID-19, and people’s perception that their country was handling the pandemic well increased a sense of wellbeing. This was shown in many Asian countries moving up the rankings, such as China, moving to 84th place from 94th last year.
On the other hand, the United States, initially ranked #13 five years ago, slipped again from 18th to 19th place. As for the UK, they fell from the 13th position to 18th.
“The World Happiness Report 2021 reminds us that we must aim for wellbeing rather than mere wealth, which will be fleeting indeed if we don’t do a much better job of addressing the challenges of sustainable development,” explains Sachs. It’s been a year that really drove home for everyone what matters most.
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The World Happiness Report 2021 also found that mental health has been one of the major casualties both of the pandemic and of the resulting lockdowns.
“When the pandemic struck, there was a large and immediate decline in mental health in many countries around the world,” explains the report.
“Estimates vary depending on the measure used and the country in question, but the qualitative findings are remarkably similar. In the UK, in May 2020, a general measure of mental health was 7.7 percent lower than predicted in the absence of the pandemic, and the number of mental health problems reported was 47 percent higher.”
They found workforce wellbeing was also greatly impacted by the pandemic and accounted for a 12 percent drop in satisfaction last year. Sadly, those who lost their jobs reported a shocking 40 percent drop in life satisfaction if they already felt alone to begin with. Definitely keeping checking in on your WFH buddies.
Despite this sobering data, the report authors also found that resilience was a key thread, especially around feelings of social connection and life evaluations. We truly do know that we’re all in this together and that makes the light at the end of the tunnel shine a little brighter.
(Lead images: Helsinki, Tapio Haaja/ Unsplash; New Zealand, Casey Horner / Unsplash)
Sonia feels most at home on the road, with travel her greatest passion. But really, she’s hype about a lot of things: beautiful design, tasty food, wellness, nature, interesting people and women’s issues. The Founding Editor of Junkee’s The Cusp and former Homes Editor at Nine, Sonia prides herself on seeking out authentic experiences with charm and loves sharing a personal rec. Catch her on Instagram @sonnietothetee.