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Norway is the World’s Happiest Country, but Why?

Every year since 2012, the World Happiness Report has published a list of countries ranked in order of happiness of their citizens. For the last few years, Denmark has ranked as the happiest nation on Earth but this year, Norway, its neighbour to the north unseated it and took its place. How is global happiness calculated and why did Norway come out on top for 2017?

How is National Happiness Measured?

In order to explain how and why Norway won (and why Scandinavian countries always come out quite high), it’s necessary to explain the factors used to calculate the ranks. A poll asks a number of questions covering:

  • GDP per capita
  • Social support
  • Life Expectancy
  • Freedom to make life choices
  • Generosity
  • Perception of government corruption

These are calculated around an average weighted by something called a “dystopia residual” (assumed the average happiness) and a confidence factor for the sample. Around 2,000-3,000 people are surveyed. Some feel this is not enough but the OECD and the UN (who support the findings each year) feel it is a large enough sample to get a good overview, covering every demographic within the country.

NorwayIsn’t it all subjective? As much as the report tries to be scientific, it can only make general points about national feelings based on these categories and is therefore rather subjective. Why is it important to measure national happiness at all? The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) decided to add happiness to the list of things important to national growth on top of economic prosperity and health.

Why Do Scandinavian Countries Rank so Highly?

The Scandinavian countries have always ranked highly in this report (now in its sixth year). Denmark, Sweden and Norway have always appeared in the top 10 with Sweden the lowest this year in 9th place. Last year, Denmark was top and Norway was fourth. The main reason for such high ranking is that they have stable economies, a general sense of well-being and strong social care for health and old age. The cost of living is generally high in these countries, but also there appears to be low(er) levels of poverty compared to other countries.

They also appear to have a strong sense of the importance of something called hygge (pronounced hyoo-guh), a type of mindful living that encourages people to slow down and enjoy simple pleasures. This Norwegian outlook is that life is for experiences not the acquisition of things. Material wealth is less important than living a fulfilling life and they will spend money on travel and new experiences and less on buying the next smartphone on property investment.

They also have something called “dugnad”, sadly something we may have lost in the UK. Neighbours help each other out of altruism and a sense of community spirit. This belonging, when coupled with a pursuit of comfort, is a powerful motivator for happiness.

Norway is not a Utopia

While everybody looks with awe at the Scandinavian countries, it’s important to recognise that they are not perfect societies – they are simply the happiest in the world. No country could ever achieve perfection and both Norway and Denmark do have some societal issues.

Critics, including a number of Norwegians, have come forward in the last week to explain that Norwegians feel less free to be themselves compared to Americans (ranked 103), Greeks (ranked 124) and Central Americans. Based on this, happiness is relative and a matter of perception. There is a sense of repression that comes from something called “The Law of Jante” too. This is the idea that one should not believe one is special compared to others. While it perhaps is a warning against arrogance, it is not particularly good for self-esteem.