Finland named the world's happiest country (again) in 2024 but young people in Europe are struggling

Finland has been named the happiest country in the world for the seventh consecutive year. But the picture for young people and adolescents is increasingly bleak.
Finland has been named the happiest country in the world for the seventh consecutive year. But the picture for young people and adolescents is increasingly bleak. Copyright Canva
By David Walsh
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The 2024 World Happiness Report also showed a disturbing downward trend in life evaluations by young people and adolescents, particularly in Western Europe.

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Finland has been crowned the world’s happiest country for a seventh successive year in the newly-released World Happiness Report.

Compiled by using data from more than 140 countries, the report is published annually by Gallup, the United Nations, and the University of Oxford.

For the first time, the 2024 World Happiness Report has offered empirical data based on age, showing a worrying divergence in how happy young people are globally compared to older generations.

Overall, European countries dominated the rankings; in particular, the Nordic countries Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, and Norway all retained spots in the top 10.

How do you measure happiness?

The annual World Happiness Report rankings are largely based on subjective life evaluations compiled over the past three years from the Gallup World Poll in cooperation with the University of Oxford’s Wellbeing Research Centre and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

While the rankings themselves are based only on the answers people give when asked to rate their own lives, interdisciplinary experts from the fields of economics, psychology, and sociology are then called in to crunch the data and make evaluations based on six key variables.

The variables the report quantifies are income (GDP per capita), healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and freedom from corruption.

Young people are more unhappy than ever

For the first time, the report has drilled down into the data to give insights into levels of happiness by age group.

This showed a wildly different picture compared to the official rankings, with Lithuania (19 in the overall rankings) coming out top as the happiest country in the world for young children and people under 30, while Denmark (second overall) was the happiest place to be for older people over 60.

This year’s report did, however, highlight a growing disparity in well-being between ages depending on their geographical location.

Researchers found that, globally, young people aged 15 to 24 reported higher life satisfaction than adults aged 25 and older. However, there were significant dips highlighted in Western Europe and North America, as well as the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia "due to negative trends for young people".

"Piecing together the available data on the well-being of children and adolescents around the world, we documented disconcerting drops especially in North America and Western Europe," Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, director of Oxford’s Well-being Research Centre and an editor of the World Happiness Report, said.

"To think that, in some parts of the world, children are already experiencing the equivalent of a mid-life crisis demands immediate policy action".

Conversely, in the rest of world, happiness levels for young people and adolescents had largely risen though, generally speaking, older people were much happier overall.

When comparing generations, those born before 1965 are, on average, happier than those born since 1980.

While for Boomers, life satisfaction was seen to increase with age, for Millennials, the evaluation of their happiness dropped with each year of age, the report showed.

"We found some pretty striking results. There is a great variety among countries in the relative happiness of the younger, older, and in-between populations," John F Helliwell, an emeritus professor of economics at the University of British Columbia and a founding editor of the World Happiness Report, said in a statement.

"Hence the global happiness rankings are quite different for the young and the old, to an extent that has changed a lot over the last dozen years".

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Which countries were in the bottom 10?

Looking at the bottom 10 first, Afghanistan remains the world’s unhappiest country in a largely unchanged ranking.

134. Zambia

135. Eswatini

136. Malawi

137. Botswana

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138. Zimbabwe

139. Congo

140. Sierra Leone

141. Lesotho

142. Lebanon

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143. Afghanistan

Which countries were in the top 10?

Overall, this year’s top 10 rankings also remain largely unchanged, especially the top three. However, second place Denmark has managed to close the gap with Finland.

1. Finland

2. Denmark

3. Iceland

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4. Sweden

5. Israel

6. Netherlands

7. Norway

8. Luxembourg

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9. Switzerland

10. Australia

What are the key takeaways?

While the top 10 remain tight-knit on scores and largely unchanged in positioning, the more interesting moves appear in the top 20.

New entrants include Costa Rica and Kuwait at positions 12 and 13 respectively, while the United States and Germany were both dislodged from 15th and 16th spots, dropping to 23 and 24 this year.

This is the first time the US has fallen out of the top 20 since the World Happiness Report was first published, driven largely by a significant drop in the well-being of Americans under 30, the report's authors noted.

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Also noticeable this year was the narrowing of happiness levels between Western and Eastern Europe, with countries like Czechia (18) and Lithuania (19) retaining their spots in the top 20, with Slovenia now in 21st position.

Interestingly, none of the world’s largest countries featured in the top 20, with only two countries in the top 10 - the Netherlands and Australia - having population sizes exceeding 15 million.

As with previous years, 2023 was marked by seismic geopolitical events. Their impact on happiness gauges largely depends on when these events occurred in relation to when the survey was conducted. Rankings are also based on a three-year average of the data compiled.

Therefore, events like the Hamas attacks on Israeli kibbutzim on October 7 and the subsequent war in Gaza would have gone largely unregistered, which explains why Israel (which placed fourth last year) remains high in the rankings in fifth position.

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