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2018 World Happiness Report: Burundi among the 10 unhappiest countries

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Burundi in east Africa, scarred by bouts of ethnic cleansing, civil wars, and coup attempts, is the unhappiest place in the world

Strikingly, there are five other nations – Rwanda, Yemen, Tanzania, South Sudan and the Central African Republic – which report happiness levels below that of even Syria.

Despite African countries getting the worst happiness scores, one West African nation has bucked the trend. Togo came bottom in 2015 but was the biggest improver in the 2018 report, rising 18 places. Latvians and Bulgarians are also reporting higher levels of happiness.

For the first time, the UN also examined the happiness levels of immigrants in each country and found Finland also scored highest. Finland has overtaken Norway to become the happiest nation on earth, according to a UN report.

“Finland has vaulted from fifth place to the top of the rankings this year,” said the report’s authors, although they noted that the other three Nordic countries (plus Switzerland) have almost interchangeable scores.

The report, an annual publication from the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, said all the Nordic countries scored highly on income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.

The rankings are based on Gallup polls of self-reported well-being, as well as perceptions of corruption, generosity and freedom.

In Britain, figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest people have become happier in recent years. But the UN ranking places the UK in a lowly 19th place, the same as last year but behind Germany, Canada and Australia, although ahead of France and Spain.

The UN report devotes a special chapter to why the US, once towards the top of happiness table, has slipped down the league despite having among the highest income per capita.

“America’s subjective well-being is being systematically undermined by three interrelated epidemic diseases, notably obesity, substance abuse (especially opioid addiction) and depression,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University in New York, and one of the report’s authors.

Venezuela recorded the biggest fall in happiness, outstripping even Syria, although in absolute terms it remains a mid-ranking country. The report notes that Latin American countries generally scored more highly than their GDP per capita suggests, especially in contrast to fast-growing East Asian countries.

Latin America is renowned for corruption, high violence and crime rates, unequal distribution of income and widespread poverty, yet has consistently scored relatively highly in the happiness report. The authors attributed this to “the abundance of family warmth and other supportive social relationships frequently sidelined in favour of an emphasis on income measures in the development discourse”.

Meanwhile, the greatest human migration in history – the hundreds of millions of people who have moved from the Chinese countryside into cities – has not advanced happiness at all, the report found.

“Even seven-and-a-half years after migrating to urban areas, migrants from rural areas are on average less happy than they might have been had they stayed at home,” according to John Knight of the Oxford Chinese Economy Programme at the University of Oxford and one of the contributors to the UN report.

Top 10 happiest countries, 2018 (2017 ranking in brackets)

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

The 10 unhappiest countries, 2018 (2017 ranking in brackets)

  1. Malawi (136)
  2. Haiti (145)
  3. Liberia (148)
  4. Syria (152)
  5. Rwanda (151)
  6. Yemen (146)
  7. Tanzania (153)
  8. South Sudan (147)
  9. Central African Republic (155)
  10. Burundi (154)

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