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Noah Feldman

If World Happiness Reports Make You Miserable, Join the Club

Northern Europeans came out on top of the global ranking this year, as always. They wouldn’t if Americans got to use their own definition of the word.

Well-being is a goal that can’t be ranked.

Well-being is a goal that can’t be ranked.

Photographer: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

The annual World Happiness Report came out on Friday and, sure enough, the usual rich Nordic and northern European countries clustered at the top. Finland and Denmark ranked as the happiest and second-happiest corners of the planet, and the top eight were all in northern Europe. Afghanistan, Lebanon and Zimbabwe brought up the rear, as war-torn and impoverished countries always do. Data for the survey, issued by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a United Nations affiliate, was compiled before the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine (No. 98) by Russia (No. 60) presumably reduced human happiness pretty much everywhere.

The U.S. was No. 16, about where it usually shows up. For a country supposedly dedicated to “the pursuit of happiness” — not to mention self-boosterism — the result is always a bit disappointing. Americans wonder at it, shake their heads and ruminate in their political silos about the causes. There’s often a big difference between how people feel about their individual well-being and what they think about the state of the nation.