March 20th, 2023, marks the 10th annual International Day of Happiness, a global reminder of the importance of promoting wellbeing. The day also sees the launch of the World Happiness Report, which ranks 137 countries by how happy they are, based on survey data from the Gallup World Poll.

Finland tops the list of happiest countries for the 6th year running. The UK has dropped from 17th place (scoring 6.94) in 2022 to 19th (scoring 6.80) in 2023. 

Unsurprisingly happiness has gone down in many countries during the pandemic years - a time of increased fear, illness, social distancing and lockdowns. At the same time, the report shows a notable increase in benevolent and pro-social behaviour which continues to remain higher than pre-pandemic levels. 

Dr Mark Williamson, CEO of Action for Happiness, said: “Our world has been facing major challenges, including pandemic, war and economic hardship, so it’s no surprise that global happiness has taken a hit. This report also shows the amazing resilience people have shown in the face of difficulties.

“Supporting people’s wellbeing should be our top priority - especially for leaders and policy makers - as we continue to rebuild and recover. The inspiring silver lining is that we continue to see higher levels of kindness and community spirit, even in the darkest of times. Kindness is the key to a happier world for all of us.”

The reported levels of three benevolent behaviours, ‘donating’, ‘volunteering’ and ‘helping a stranger’ increased significantly. The behaviours peaked in 2021 and all three remain above pre-pandemic levels (see chart below). 

This prosocial behaviour may have helped to cushion the experience of living through the pandemic and may explain why life satisfaction did not fall significantly during that time. This year’s report also notes the bi-directional benefit between altruism and wellbeing; higher wellbeing promotes altruism, and altruism promotes higher wellbeing.

The unhappiest countries are those affected by war; Afghanistan and Lebanon remain at the bottom of the table. Ukraine saw happiness fall by two-thirds of a point, partly due to high levels of worry. However, it also saw a galvanising of benevolence with significant increases in helping strangers, donations and trust in government, which may have mitigated the fall in life satisfaction.

The top ten countries:

1. Finland (7.80)

2. Denmark (7.59)

3. Iceland (7.53)

4. Israel (7.47)

5. Netherlands (7.40)

6. Sweden (7.39)

7. Norway (7.31)

8. Switzerland (7.24)

9. Luxembourg (7.23)

10. New Zealand (7.12)

Other countries of note:

15. United States (6.89)

19. United Kingdom (6.80)

64. China (5.82)

70. Russia (5.66)

92. Ukraine (5.07)

137. Afghanistan (1.86)