Published: 10:22, March 20, 2021 | Updated: 22:01, June 4, 2023
Finland defends title as world's happiest nation for 4th time
By Bloomberg

An aerial photo taken on Feb 28, 2021 shows ice surfers skating across the frozen Baltic Sea off the coast of Helsinki. (SAM KINGSLEY / AFP)

Finland defended its title as the world’s happiest country through a year marked by the pandemic, with people’s trust in each other and their government proving a key factor.

Finland has so far weathered the pandemic better than most countries, avoiding lockdowns that reduced life satisfaction across the globe

It’s the fourth straight trophy for the Nordic country in the World Happiness Report 2021 published on Friday by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

As the pandemic turned 2020 on its head, the report provided two rankings: the usual one based on the average of three years of surveys taken in 2018-2020 by Gallup, and another focused on 2020 alone to help understand the outbreak’s effect on subjective well-being - and how factors contributing to well-being affected pandemic outcomes.

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Trust was the key factor linking happiness and successful COVID-19 strategies, where societies with higher confidence in public institutions and greater income equality were the more successful in fighting the virus.

Finland has so far weathered the pandemic better than most countries, avoiding lockdowns that reduced life satisfaction across the globe. Hospitals haven’t been overwhelmed and it’s managed to keep deaths below 150 per 1 million people, compared with the global average of about 980. Denmark, which came in second, has also weathered the pandemic relatively well.

The US dropped one place to number 19, five spots behind Canada and three below developing country Costa Rica, while people in Afghanistan remained the least happy.

The two ranking methods used this time show that changes in the overall scores were modest, “reflecting both the global nature of the pandemic and a widely shared resilience in the face of it.”

For example, the top 10 in the two methods used shared nine nations: Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand and Austria.

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“We must aim for well-being 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,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. “The pandemic reminds us of our global environmental threats, the urgent need to cooperate, and the difficulties of achieving cooperation in each country and globally. We need urgently to learn from COVID-19.”