Is it possible to live in a country where everyone is happy? While each individual’s idea of "happy" might be different, it turns out that you can quantify “happiness” on a national level. Every year the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network works to determine happiness and releases an annual report that ranks 156 nations around the world. Happiness is generally configured by reviewing six primary criteria: GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, corruption, and freedom. So from least to the most, here are the 2018 10 happiest countries in the world.

  1. Australia
  2. Sweden
  3. New Zealand
  4. Canada
  5. The Netherlands
  6. Switzerland
  7. Iceland
  8. Denmark
  9. Norway
  10. Finland

So What Does Happiness Mean Anyway?

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If the UN isn’t personally surveying every citizen of a country to determine his or her individual emotional index, how do they extrapolate happiness from the criteria we mentioned above? Essentially, the UN uses raw data to determine the overall quality of life. Countries that score higher in each category can be considered “happier” because they offer a better existence for their citizens.

However, these six benchmarks aren’t the only areas the UN takes into account. In recent years, heavy migration in various parts of the world has impacted numerous countries. And as a result, in 2018 the UN was specifically interested in how immigrants view their new homes and if they’re truly able to achieve happiness in a new land versus their home countries.

The World Happiness Report 2018 was the first ever that incorporated immigrant experiences. 117 of the 156 countries surveyed were also judged based on these new criteria. The UN didn’t just focus on immigrant experiences but the impact that mass migration from home countries caused on those left behind and those who are native to the host country.

The Findings

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  • The Immigrant-Local Corollary: Even when you adjust for immigrants and potential barriers to accessing social systems, securing work, and the like, in general, foreign-born respondents reported relatively equal levels of satisfaction with their new country as native-born citizens. However, the caveat was that nations that ranked highest on the happiness index also had the immigrants who expressed lower happiness than locals. Meanwhile, the reverse was true in nations that scored lower on the index overall.
  • Local hostilities towards immigrant populations impact immigrant happiness. This should shock no one, but a nation that has a negative relationship with immigrant communities will ultimately create a negative experience for those immigrants, which will result in less happiness for the nation as a whole.

Who is Happiest?

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So who’s happier: the immigrant, the citizens who stay behind, or locals in a host country? This is a very nuanced question that doesn’t have a straightforward answer. There are a variety of factors that determine these figures:

  • There’s a direct connection between happy locals and immigrants. A trickle of migration is usually received more favorably by local communities versus large-scale waves. As a result, host countries can be perceived as more welcoming to smaller immigration numbers—resulting in happier immigrants in those scenarios.
  • However, an immigrant who is able to secure steady long-term work versus temporary subsistence will also report higher happiness levels. Likewise, immigrants who are able to assimilate or even make connections with local residents will report higher levels of happiness than those who remain within their immigrant communities.
  • Even with securing work and finding themselves in a welcoming country, many immigrants express distress at leaving loved ones and their communities behind in pursuit of a better life.

Honorable Mention: Rural to Urban Migration

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Even within a nation, there can be tensions as native citizens are forced to relocate in hopes of a better life. This can happen anywhere, including the U.S. The Dust Bowl Migration refers to farmers in the Plains States whose livelihoods were decimated during the Dust Bowl and had to move westward. In parallel, the Great Migration specifically references African Americans who moved north between 1916 and the 1970s because of poor economic prospects and intense segregation in the American South. And just as there have been hostilities to international immigrants throughout world history, these American domestic migrants also experienced serious backlash, often viewed as economic threats, who stole jobs from locals.

Fast-forward to modern-day China, and we see that economic growth in that nation has led to countless rural citizens setting out for larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai in hopes of better prospects. While many citizens are able to secure better-paying jobs and economic stability, they also report decreased happiness compared to those who stayed behind in their rural communities or native urban dwellers who were always located in a city. Why the dissatisfaction? It turns out that losing a shared community, their cohorts, is the biggest reason for a decrease in happiness.  

So does this mean that we should all be submitting visa applications for the nations that topped the 2018 list? Unless your heart is calling you to relocate, there’s no need to renounce your citizenship just yet. But it might be worth booking your next vacation to stop off in one (or two or three) of the locales that made it to the top 10 list of happiest countries in the world.