Hygge may have dominated Instagram and newspapers’ lifestyle pages all winter – but it seems the Danish concept, roughly translated as cosiness and relaxation, wasn’t enough to keep the country at the top of the world happiness rankings.
Fellow Nordic nation Norway has overtaken Denmark to become the happiest place on Earth, according to the United Nations’ 2017 World Happiness Report, which measures “subjective well-being”. Norway has jumped from fourth place last year to take the top spot, with Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland following closely behind.
Also among the top 10 happiest countries are Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden. The US and the UK also rank towards the top of the table, coming in 14th and 19th place respectively.
The bottom of the list is dominated by countries in sub-Saharan Africa and those affected by conflict. This year’s least happy country is the Central African Republic, which came in 155th place, followed by Burundi, Tanzania, Syria, Rwanda, Togo, Guinea, Liberia, South Sudan and Yemen.
The UN released the report to coincide with its International Day of Happiness on the 20th March. The organisation calculates the rankings each year by asking 1,000 people in more than 150 countries one subjective question and taking an average score for each country, reported the BBC.
"Imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?"
Objective factors are also taken into account, such as a country’s economic strength (measured in GDP per capita), social support, life expectancy, freedom of choice, generosity, and perceived corruption, the BBC reported.
So, what is it about Norway that keeps its people in such high spirits? It’s not simply the country’s oil wealth, according to the UN. “Norway moves to the top of the ranking despite weaker oil prices. It is sometimes said that Norway achieves and maintains its high happiness not because of its oil wealth, but in spite of it.
“By choosing to produce its oil slowly, and investing the proceeds for the future rather than spending them in the present, Norway has insulated itself from the boom and bust cycle of many other resource-rich economies,” the UN said.
Norway has done this with “high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance,” all factors that have also helped to keep other top countries where they are in the happiness rankings.
Isabelle Bush, a PhD student from the UK who lived in Oslo for two years as a teenager, said she's not at all surprised by the report. "The fantastic work-life balance must have something to do with it, and the way people prioritise their private life over their work life. They are an incredibly active population – very, very sporty – and attached to nature," she says.
"On Sundays, all shops are shut - no food, except for bare essentials, and no clothes shops either. Sunday is for hiking or sport with the family," Bush says, adding that this may also be a contributing factor.
Jeffrey Sachs, director of the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, said: “Happy countries are the ones that have a healthy balance of prosperity, as conventionally measured, and social capital, meaning a high degree of trust in a society, low inequality and confidence in government,” reported The Guardian.
The report also dedicates a whole chapter to the recent drop in happiness in America, and takes a swipe at Donald Trump’s policies by suggesting they are likely to worsen the situation.
"They are all aimed at increasing inequality – tax cuts at the top, throwing people off the healthcare rolls, cutting Meals on Wheels in order to raise military spending. I think everything that has been proposed goes in the wrong direction," said Sachs.
Luckily for us, flights from the UK to Norway are dirt cheap – why not book a trip to experience a little slice of Nordic happiness for yourself?