What makes a nation happy? According to The Oxford English Dictionary, “happiness” can be defined as “the state of pleasurable contentment of mind; or contentment with one’s circumstances”. But what happens when you try to apply the term to entire countries? The answer can be found in World Happiness Report 2023, which was published this week. Created by the UN with Gallup World Poll and various researchers, the annual report ranks 150 countries based on its happiness index. Criteria include health, social support, the freedom to make life choices, perceptions of corruption and GDP per capita.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Finland is again in first place, making this its sixth consecutive year at the top. It is followed by Denmark and Israel. This year there has been more focus on kindness and benevolence. “Year after year we have found that generosity is a meaningful predictor of happiness,” write the report’s authors.
While the report is a reminder of the kinds of factors that push nations forward and towards healthy democracies, is it possible to quantify something as subjective as happiness? My home country, Portugal, is ranked 56th – but I struggle to believe that we are any less happy than our Nordic counterparts. We thrive when we are sad; in other words, we’re happy being gloomy. Complaining and having an air of melancholy is part of who we are; to return to that dictionary definition, it’s part of what makes us content with our circumstances. What’s more, I seriously doubt that Portugal would have given the world fado music had we been any further up the ranking.
Carlota Rebelo is Monocle’s senior foreign correspondent, based in the world’s 19th happiest nation, the UK.