Finland has the happiest people in the world — for the seventh year in a row. And the United States has fallen out of the joyous top 20 for the first time since the World Happiness Report was first released in 2012.

The report’s age breakdown said young U.S. adults are to blame. They check in as considerably less happy than older Americans. According to the report, in both the United States and Canada, the rankings for those age 60 and older compared to other nations are 50 or more places higher than for those under 30. It’s the opposite in Central and Eastern Europe, where young people’s happiness puts them 40 or more places higher on the age-specific list compared to older people’s happiness.

Were one to look just at how young American adults under age 30 rank their well-being, the U.S. sits at No. 62 for happiness. But when those 60s and older consider their lives, the U.S. floats up to No. 10.

That’s the bad news. But there’s good news in a silver-lining-seeking world: Countries that used to be less happy, “especially several in Eastern Europe,” as CNN notes, “had welcome gains in happiness.” Those include Czechia, Lithuania and Slovenia.

The rankings are based on data from 2021, 2022 and 2023, using three main indications of well-being: life evaluations, positive emotions and negative emotions. Much of the life evaluation data is taken from the Gallup World Poll, including responses from more than 100,000 adults in a total of 143 different countries. In the poll, people look at their life on a ladder that climbs from 0 to 10. And to avoid a moment-in-time malaise or burst of glee, the happiness rankings are based on a three-year average of life evaluations. Positive emotions is the average of individual yes/no responses to questions about laughter, enjoyment and interest. Negative emotions is the average of the responses about worry, sadness and anger.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which is a partner in the report, said key variables that may account for how good or bad life evaluations are include gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make decisions about one’s life, generosity and perceptions of a country’s overall corruption.

It’s worth noting that pretty much globally, positive emotions are more than twice as common as the negative ones — even since COVID-19 began. But overall, females have “more frequent negative emotions” regardless of age groups than do males.

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The United States came in at No. 23 overall, down from 15 in 2023′s report. Germany also left the top 20, dropping from 16 to 24.

Afghanistan, by the way, is the unhappiest in the new report, dropping 13 places from last year.

The report was released Wednesday, which has been deemed the International Day of Happiness.

The rankings

According to the report, the top countries for happiness are:

  1. Finland.
  2. Denmark.
  3. Iceland.
  4. Sweden.
  5. Israel.
  6. Netherlands.
  7. Norway.
  8. Luxembourg.
  9. Switzerland.
  10. Australia.
  11. New Zealand.
  12. Costa Rica.
  13. Kuwait.
  14. Austria.
  15. Canada.
  16. Belgium.
  17. Ireland.
  18. Czechia.
  19. Lithuania.
  20. United Kingdom.

There’s more good news. The report found that post-COVID, benevolence is up, especially among millennials and Generation Z, “who are even more likely than their predecessors to help others in need.”

The report notes that “top countries no longer include any of the largest countries. In the top 10 countries, only the Netherlands and Australia have populations over 15 million. In the whole of the top 20, only Canada and the United Kingdom have populations over 30 million.”

The report is a collaboration of Gallup, the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre, the U.S. Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the World Happiness Report editorial board.

Finding happiness

The International Day of Happiness, which is designated March 20, is a creation of the General Assembly of the United Nations. On its website, it calls happiness and well-being common goals in the lives of all humans.

USA Today asked analysts what makes Americans happy and where happy people reside. A WalletHub analyst, Cassandra Happe, said money can bring happiness, since stable income matters for health and wellness. WalletHub says Fremont, California, is the happiest city because 4 out of 5 households there make at least $75,000 a year.

The article also noted that Pearl City, Hawaii, No. 8 for WalletHub’s happy place list, has the lowest rate of depression.

The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkeley launched an experiment it called “BIG JOY Project,” encouraging people to take seven minutes every day and experiment with “micro-acts of joy” to see what appeals longterm.

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“The center notes that ‘joy is an inside job. There are simple, scientifically proven things each of us can do to access more joy,’” Deseret News reported on the project.

According to the article, the project’s exercises target being kind, paying attention to what matters, making a list of things for which you’re grateful, looking for things that “fill you with awe,” celebrating things that bring other people joy, looking at things in a new way and deciding that you want to be a “force for good.”

Experts say happiness can come from a lot of different sources that a person can internalize into positivity. Health, good news, feeling loved, believing you are appreciated, finding purpose and learning to keep things in perspective can all contribute to happiness. Laughter, hugs and finding someone who really listens can increase happiness. So can being the provider of those things for others. Forgiving someone can boost your happiness. So can nurturing relationships.

Many say faith makes them happy. As Deseret News separately reported, “People who hold religious or spiritual beliefs are happier than those who don’t, according to psychologist Catherine Sanderson, a professor at Amherst College who wrote ‘The Positive Shift: Mastering Mindset to Improve Happiness Health and Longevity.’ Years ago, she told The Washington Post that religious beliefs provide people with a sense of meaning and a social network, among other things.”

And for children, a significant contributor to happiness is feeling that at least one adult has your back and really sees you.