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Britain falls in world happiness rankings – with young people more miserable than older generations



The UK is the 20th happiest nation in the world – but young people are significantly more likely to be unhappy than older generations.

Britain dropped one place from the 2023 rankings, placing it below Lithuania and Czechia, while Finland, Denmark and Iceland were the top three happiest countries.

Finland was in the top spot for the seventh year in a row, while Afghanistan placed last.

Finland is leading the way on happiness. Pic: Reuters

Sweden, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Australia made up the rest of the top ten.

The US fell by eight places in the ranking – falling from 15th to 23rd – with experts blaming this on a trend of young adults in Western Europe and North America experiencing rising unhappiness and something similar to “mid-life crisis”.

British people under 30 ranked 32nd in the happiness rankings, behind nations such as Moldova, Kosovo and El Salvador.

In contrast, over 60s in the UK were 20th in the rankings.

Millennials and younger age groups in North America were also significantly more likely than older age groups to report loneliness.

The findings are at odds with previous research into wellbeing, which found happiness is highest in childhood and early teens, before falling to its lowest in middle age, then rising around retirement.

The top 10 happiest countries in the world

1. Finland

2. Denmark

3. Iceland

4. Sweden

5. Israel

6. Netherlands

7. Norway

8. Luxembourg

9. Switzerland

10. Australia

“Youth, especially in North America, are experiencing a mid-life crisis today,” said Dr Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, a University of Oxford economics professor and one of the report’s editors.

But Dr De Neve said a range of factors was likely to be lowering young peoples’ happiness, including increased polarisation over social issues, negative aspects of social media, and economic inequality that made it harder for young people to afford their own homes than in the past.

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While the phenomenon is starkest in the United States, the age gap in well-being is also wide in Canada and Japan, and to a lesser extent in France, Germany and Britain, which all lost ground in this year’s rankings.

By contrast, many of the countries with the biggest improvements in well-being are former communist countries in central and eastern Europe.

There, unlike in richer countries, young people report significantly better quality of life than older people, often on a par or better than in western Europe.

“Slovenia, Czechia and Lithuania are moving into the top 20 and that’s wholly driven by their youth,” Dr De Neve said.

While Israel was fifth in the table, Palestine was the 103rd happiest country in the world out of 143 surveyed.

Meanwhile, both Russia and Ukraine saw a decline in their ranking this year. Russia dropped from 70th to 72nd while Ukraine was 105th – down from 92nd last year.

Pic: Reuters
A view shows a bomb crater and residential buildings destroyed by a Russian air strike in the village of Borova, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine March 6, 2024. Press service of the National Police of Ukraine in Kharkiv region/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
In Ukraine, people are dealing with an ongoing war. Pic: Reuters

The annual World Happiness Report, launched in 2012 to support the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, asked people to evaluate their life on a scale from zero to 10, with 10 representing their best possible life.

Results from the past three years are averaged to create a ranking.

The rankings loosely correlate with a country’s prosperity, but other factors such as life expectancy, social bonds, personal freedom and corruption also appear to influence responses.

The results were published on 20 March, the International Day of Happiness.

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