What do happy countries have in common?

The countries that consistently form the top 5 in happiness surveys and reports are Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Switzerland and Norway. The Happiness Research Institute found that the things these countries have in common include “a strong civil society, a well-functioning democracy, a high degree of security, trust, freedom and prosperity, together with good working conditions that allow for a balanced life”.

8 major contributors to what makes these countries so happy:

1)      Trust – trusting our fellow countrymen has a great effect on our happiness levels, just as trust in our colleagues affects our job satisfaction.

Top 5 happiest countries in the world compared to trust:

Country World Happiness Ranking 2016 World Trust Ranking 2015
Denmark 1 1
Switzerland 2 4
Iceland 3 7
Norway 4 3
Finland 5 2
World Happiness Report 2016
OECD 2015

2)      Security – a strong welfare state system reduces uncertainty in financial crisis. This matters most to the poorest sections of society, and may explain in part why the Danes and other Nordic countries do so much better than other countries of similar wealth.

3)      Wealth – generally speaking, the wealthier countries have much higher levels of happiness than the poorest ones. Individual happiness with economic situation is relative – if we feel we are wealthier than those around us, we feel happier. The same was found in a study in job satisfaction that concluded most people would rather earn a salary of fifty thousand dollars over a salary of one hundred thousand dollars, but only as long as they were getting significantly more than those around them.

4)      Freedom – the feeling that we have control over our lives has a huge impact on life satisfaction. The same is also true of a feeling of autonomy at work and job satisfaction, which you can read about here.

5)      Work – High levels of employment and a trend towards workplaces with high levels of autonomy and job quality contribute significantly to a happy population.

6)      Democracy – high transparency, low corruption and high levels of political engagement help to maintain top five status for a country in the happiness rankings. The world’s top 5 least corrupt nations:

1 – Denmark     2 – Finland     3 – Sweden     4 – New Zealand     5 Netherlands/ Norway

(Source: Transparency International 2016)

7)      Civil society – social cohesion is particularly high in Denmark, which is thought to be partly due to the high levels of volunteer participation, as well as other factors such as the welfare system.

8)      Balance – the ability to balance work and leisure is a standard part of life in the happiest countries, with time devoted to family as the norm. Parental leave policies may also play a major role.

So what can you do?

  • Imitation – the Danish concept of Hygge is good place to start, though it certainly isn’t the answer to everything, so trying adding some cosy touches to your home, spend a little more time with friends and family and really savour the quiet moments to yourself.
  • When looking for jobs, opt for ones with excellent parental leave policies – even if you don’t plan to start a family, or already have one, this may say a lot about the company’s attitude to family life
  • Volunteer. If you want a society with decent social cohesion, become part of the solution
  • Use your vote wisely, and vote for parties with policies that you think may create a more equal society if you want to feel happier
  • Read how to feel motivated at work and start making your job work for you.