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The U.S. Is the Unhappiest It’s Ever Been

Grace Dobush

The United States is the unhappiest it’s ever been.

The 2019 World Happiness Report says that Finland remains the happiest country on earth for the second year in the row, while the U.S. drops to No. 19, it’s worst ranking ever (it was 18 in 2018 and 14 in 2017).

The global report on 156 countries released Wednesday placed five Nordic countries in the top 10, with the Netherlands (5), Switzerland (6), New Zealand (7), Canada (9), and Austria (10) filling out the other top spots.

At No.15., even the Brexit-divided United Kingdom ranked higher than the U.S.

Researchers with the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network have been creating the annual happiness report since 2012, based on global data from Gallup. Countries’ happiness scores are determined by six main variables on a three-year average:

  • GDP per capita
  • Healthy life expectancy at birth
  • Social support from friends and family
  • Freedom to make life choices
  • Generosity in the form of donations to charity
  • Perceptions of government corruption

Finland — home of the recent basic income experiment — has shown steady upward progress over the past few years, the researchers found.

In the U.S., where prosperity is on the rise, researchers pin the blame on declines in social capital and social support and increases in obesity and substance abuse. Author Jean M. Twenge believes fundamental changes in how Americans spend their leisure time are also to blame, pointing a finger at the rise of digital media and the decline of face-to-face interactions.

Report co-author Jeffrey Sachs calls the United States a “mass-addiction society.” The prevalence of addictions — including gambling, social media use, video gaming, shopping, consuming unhealthy foods, exercising, and engaging in extreme sports or risky sexual behaviors — in American society seems to be on the rise, perhaps dramatically, he writes.

“The free-market theory taught in our universities holds that consumers know what’s best for them, with businesses efficiently and appropriately catering to those desires,” Sachs wrote. “The prevalence of addiction suggests a very different picture: that individuals may be lured into self-destructive behaviors, notably by businesses keen on boosting sales of their goods and services.”

You can read the whole report here.

2019 World Happiness Rankings

These are the top 20 and bottom 10 countries ranked by happiness, with a selection of countries in between:

1. Finland (7.769)

2. Denmark (7.600)

3. Norway (7.554)

4. Iceland (7.494)

5. Netherlands (7.488)

6. Switzerland (7.480)

7. Sweden (7.343)

8. New Zealand (7.307)

9. Canada (7.278)

10. Austria (7.246)

11. Australia (7.228)

12. Costa Rica (7.167)

13. Israel (7.139)

14. Luxembourg (7.090)

15. United Kingdom (7.054)

16. Ireland (7.021)

17. Germany (6.985)

18. Belgium (6.923)

19. United States (6.892)

20. Czech Republic (6.852)

32. Brazil (6.300)

58. Japan (5.886)

68. Russia (5.648)

93. China (5.191)

108. Venezuela (4.707)

117. Iran (4.548)

126. Iraq (4.437)

140. India (4.015)

147. Haiti (3.597)

148. Botswana (3.488)

149. Syria (3.462)

150. Malawi (3.410)

151. Yemen (3.380)

152. Rwanda (3.334)

153. Tanzania (3.231)

154. Afghanistan (3.203)

155. Central African Republic (3.083)

156. South Sudan (2.853)

Biggest increases in happiness

From 2005-2008 to 2016-2018, these countries’ happiness levels were most improved. The number is the increase in points over those years:

1. Benin (1.390)

2. Nicaragua (1.264)

3. Bulgaria (1.167)

4. Latvia (1.159)

5. Togo (1.077)

Biggest drops in happiness

At the other end of the scale, these countries saw the biggest decreases in happiness levels over the same time period:

128. Yemen (-1.097)

129. India (-1.137)

130. Botswana (-1.606)

131. Syria (-1.861)

132. Venezuela (-1.944)