US drops from top 20 of world's happiest countries, now behind Kuwait, Lithuania, UAE

By6abc Digital Staff WPVI logo
Wednesday, March 20, 2024
US drops from top 20 happiest countries in the world list, according to 2024 World Happiness Report
The new World Happiness Report shows that the top 10 happiest countries in the world remain largely unchanged compared to the 2023 report

The United States has fallen eight spots and is no longer in the top 20 happiest countries in the world, falling behind countries like Canada, Israel, Kuwait, Lithuania and the United Arab Emirates, according to the 2024 World Happiness Report released by Gallup and its partners.

The new report, which was released on Wednesday, shows that the top 10 happiest countries in the world remain largely unchanged compared to the 2023 report, but that there has been a lot of change when it comes to the top 20.

"Costa Rica and Kuwait are both new entrants to the top 20, at positions 12 and 13," the report states. "The continuing convergence in happiness levels between the two sides of Europe led last year to Czechia and Lithuania being in the top twenty, nearly joined now by Slovenia in 21st place. The new entrants are matched by the departures of the United States and Germany from the top 20, dropping from 15 and 16 last year to 23 and 24 this year."

The list of the world's happiest countries no longer includes any of the world's largest countries.

"In the top ten countries only the Netherlands and Australia have populations over 15 million," according to the report. "In the whole of the top twenty, only Canada and the United Kingdom have populations over 30 million."

One of the main reasons for the United States dropping out of the top 20 is the overall unhappiness of younger people, according to the report.

"For the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, happiness has decreased in all age groups, but especially for the young, so much so that the young are now, in 2021-2023, the least happy age group," according to the new report. "This is a big change from 2006-2010, when the young were happier than those in the midlife groups, and about as happy as those aged 60 and over. For the young, the happiness drop was about three-quarters of a point, and greater for females than males."

The 2024 World Happiness Report goes on to explain another reason for such a heavy drop is the widespread concern about an "emerging epidemic of loneliness, and about the consequences of loneliness for mental and physical health."

"Although overall levels of loneliness are not unduly high in global terms, there is a significantly different pattern across the generations," the report says. "Loneliness is almost twice as high among the Millennials than among those born before 1965. Millennials also feel less socially supported than Boomers in those countries, another place in which these countries look different from the rest of the world. This is despite the fact that actual social connections are much more frequent for Millennials than Boomers, and about as frequent as for Generation X."

The results are based on self-assessments from people in more than 140 countries who are answering questions regarding their overall satisfaction with their lives. The study also takes into account six key variables which contribute to explaining life evaluations, including GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity and corruption.

Then to help understand the differences seen between countries, they look at six factors: the nation's healthy life expectancy, economy (GDP per capita), levels of corruption, social support, generosity and freedom.

The top 10 countries overall this year are Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Israel, Netherlands Norway, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Australia.

The countries that fared the worst and were least happy this year are Zambia, Eswatini, Malawi, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Congo (Kinshasa), Sierra Leone, Lesotho, Lebanon and Afghanistan, which was listed as the least happy by a sizeable margin.

The happiest countries

Finland is once again the world's happiest country.

That's according to the annual report that marks the United Nations International Day of Happiness on March 20.

The report draws on global survey data from people in more than 140 countries. Countries are ranked on happiness based on their average life evaluations over the three preceding years, in this case 2021 to 2023. The report is a partnership of Gallup, the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and an editorial board.

The cool-weather nation of Finland - where the northern lights dance in winter and the summer sun can shine all night long - has a lot figured out when it comes to the right social conditions for happiness.

The survey asks each participant to score their life as a whole, considering what they value, said John Helliwell, emeritus professor of economics at the Vancouver School of Economics, University of British Columbia, and a founding editor of the World Happiness Report.

"And you find out Finland's pretty rich in all of those things, like wallets being returned if they're dropped in the street, people helping each other day in and day out, very high quality and universally distributed health and education opportunities - so everyone more or less comes out of the starting gate the same," he said.

He also noted that Finland has happy immigrants, "so it's something that they're prepared to share with newcomers."

The report looks at six key variables to help explain life evaluations: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity and perceptions of corruption.

Finland's Nordic neighbors also earned reliably high scores with Denmark (No. 2), Iceland (No. 3) and Sweden (No. 4) in the top five, and Norway (No. 7) comfortably ranking in the top 10.

Given the war with Hamas, Israel may come as a surprise at No. 5, although the country has been in the top 10 since 2022. The report's authors point out that its rankings are based on a three-year average, which often mutes the effect of "cataclysmic events happening during a particular year."

And the timing of the survey obviously plays a role when there's a crisis. The survey in Israel was conducted after the Hamas attack on October 7, but before much of the ensuing warfare. So while life evaluations fell sharply, those scores only accounted for a third of the average.

The report, which relies heavily on the Gallup World Poll, also includes a ranking for Palestine at No. 103, although its statehood is not widely recognized. The poll was conducted in the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank before the events of October 7.

The Netherlands (No. 6), Luxembourg (No. 8), Switzerland (No. 9) and Australia (No. 10) round out the top 10.

The United States drops out of the top 20

The United States (No. 23) and Germany (No. 24) dropped out of the top 20 in part because of a rise in happiness among other countries - especially Czechia (No. 18), Lithuania (No. 19) and Slovenia (No. 21). The United Kingdom was No. 20.

While Lithuania ranked 19th this year on the overall list, among respondents under 30, it was the No. 1 happiest country in 2024. For those over 60, Lithuania came in at No. 44.

In the United States and Canada, happiness scores from people under 30 were dramatically lower than those from people age 60 and older. Among people under 30, the US ranked at No. 62, while for those 60 and older, it was No. 10. Canada was No. 58 among the young and No. 8 for those 60 and older.

Australia and New Zealand, to a lesser extent, also saw much lower rankings among the young.

Helliwell said the low scores among the young in those countries aren't a matter of less education or lower income or more ill health.

"It's what they think about their lives. So it's a mood question," he said. Helliwell attributes the drop in part to the information young people in those four primarily English-speaking nations are consuming.

"They're hearing news that's making them unhappy and they may be sharing it and that may make them unhappy too," he said.

But it's not all bad news for young people.

"Overall, globally, young people aged 15-24 experienced improved life satisfaction between 2006 and 2019, and stable life satisfaction since then," the report says. "But the picture varied by region. Youth wellbeing fell in North America, Western Europe, Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia. In the rest of the world it rose."

Another positive takeaway related to young people: The spike in benevolence during the pandemic among all generations was especially pronounced among young people, Helliwell said, and that has endured.

"So that's encouraging. Despite the fact that in some countries they're not very happy, they're still capable of and willing to engage in benevolent acts for others. And that gives you hope for the future."

The report, which was published on Wednesday, was released to coincide with the U.N.'s International Day of Happiness which is celebrated on March 20 every year to promote happiness, well-being and a more compassionate world.

World's 20 happiest countries in 2024

1. Finland

2. Denmark

3. Iceland

4. Sweden

5. Israel

6. Netherlands

7. Norway

8. Luxembourg

9. Switzerland

10. Australia

11. New Zealand

12. Costa Rica

13. Kuwait

14. Austria

15. Canada

16. Belgium

17. Ireland

18. Czechia

19. Lithuania

20. United Kingdom

At the bottom of the list

Afghanistan remains the world's lowest-ranked country for happiness. Lebanon, Lesotho, Sierra Leone and Congo also ranked at the bottom.

ABC News and CNN contributed to this report.