21 October 2016
Denmark's capital, Copenhagen, is known as the world's best city for cyclists. Photo: European Commission
Denmark's capital, Copenhagen, is known as the world's best city for cyclists. Photo: European Commission

Denmark world’s happiest place, Hong Kong 75th

To paraphrase Shakespeare’s immortal line from Hamlet: Something is right in the state of Denmark.

The Scandinavian country overtook Switzerland as the world’s happiest place, a report released Wednesday said.

The World Happiness Report showed Syria, Afghanistan and eight sub-Saharan countries as the 10 least happy places on Earth to live.

The report – prepared by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University – urged countries, regardless of wealth, to tackle inequality and protect the environment.

The 10 happiest places this year are Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden, Reuters reports.

Denmark was in third place last year, behind Switzerland and Iceland.

While the rich Scandinavian countries dominated the top 10, Asia didn’t do so well.

Singapore was ranked 22nd, Taiwan 35th, Japan 53rd, Hong Kong 75th, and China 83rd out of the 157 places surveyed.

The United States was 13th, Britain 23rd, France 32nd, and Italy 50th.

“There is a very strong message for my country, the United States, which is very rich, has gotten a lot richer over the last 50 years, but has gotten no happier,” Professor Jeffrey Sachs, head of the SDSN and special adviser to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, told Reuters.

“The message for the United States is clear. For a society that just chases money, we are chasing the wrong things. Our social fabric is deteriorating, social trust is deteriorating, faith in government is deteriorating.” 

Aiming to “survey the scientific underpinnings of measuring and understanding subjective well-being”, the annual report, now in its fourth edition, ranks 157 places by happiness levels using factors such as per capita gross domestic product and healthy years of life expectancy.

It also rates “having someone to count on in times of trouble” and freedom from corruption in government and business.

“When countries single-mindedly pursue individual objectives, such as economic development, to the neglect of social and environmental objectives, the results can be highly adverse for human well-being, even dangerous for survival,” it said.

“Many countries in recent years have achieved economic growth at the cost of sharply rising inequality, entrenched social exclusion, and grave damage to the natural environment.”

The first report was issued in 2012 to support a UN meeting on happiness and well-being.

Five countries — Bhutan, Ecuador, Scotland, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela — have each appointed a minister of happiness charged with promoting it as a goal of public policy.

The 2016 survey showed that three countries in particular — Ireland, Iceland and Japan — were able to maintain their happiness levels despite external shocks, such as the post-2007 economic crisis and the 2011 earthquake/tsunami, because of social support and solidarity.

Sachs pointed to Costa Rica, which came in 14th, ahead of many wealthier countries, as an example of a healthy, happy society although it is not an economic powerhouse.

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