World's happiest countries for 2022 amid war, COVID-19 — see where US ranks

People enjoy sunshine in Kaivopuisto of Helsinki, Finland, March 16, 2022. (Photo by Matti Matikainen/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Despite Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, along with a world taking cautious steps forward after two years of a pandemic, there is also much happiness, benevolence and trust in the world, according to an annual global survey.

The 2022 World Happiness Report, a publication of the United Nationals Sustainable Development Solutions Network, uses Gallup survey data on how people evaluate their lives in more than 150 countries. 

For the fifth straight year, Finland has been named the happiest country in the world — and with a score significantly ahead of other countries in the top 10.

Key variables that contribute to explaining how someone evaluates their life include gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, generosity, freedom to make life choices, and freedom from corruption. 

The report marked its 10th anniversary this year and found that global benevolence — or kindness — increased "remarkably in 2021," up by almost 25% from its pre-pandemic level, which was led by increasing instances of helping strangers, donations and volunteering.

"This surge of benevolence, which was especially great for the helping of strangers, provides powerful evidence that people respond to help others in need, creating in the process more happiness for the beneficiaries, good examples for others to follow, and better lives for themselves," said John Helliwell, a professor of economics at the University of British Columbia and editor of the report.

Over the past decade, the 10 countries with the biggest gains in happiness were, in order, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Togo, Bahrain, Latvia, Benin, Guinea and Armenia, according to the report. The largest drops were Lebanon, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Jordan, Zambia, India, Mexico and Botswana.

Some questions center on laughter, enjoyment and doing or learning something interesting the previous day. It also looks at responses to previous-day feelings of worry, sadness and anger.

Jeffrey Sachs, president of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, said the report began out of a determination "to find the path to greater global well-being."

"Now, at a time of pandemic and war, we need such an effort more than ever. And the lesson of the World Happiness Report over the years is that social support, generosity to one another, and honesty in government are crucial for well-being, " Sachs said in a statement

"World leaders should take heed. Politics should be directed as the great sages long ago insisted: to the well-being of the people, not the power of the rulers," Sachs added.

The 2022 World Happiness Report: Top 20 happiest countries

1. Finland
2. Denmark
3. Iceland
4. Switzerland
5. Netherlands
6. Luxembourg
7. Sweden
8. Norway
9. Israel
10. New Zealand
11. Austria
12. Australia
13. Ireland
14. Germany
15. Canada
16. United States
17. United Kingdom
18. Czechia (Czech Republic)
19. Belgium
20. France

Why is Finland so happy?

Finland earning the top spot for the fifth consecutive year begs the question: What makes its residents so happy? 

The nation is located in the northern corner of the world, bordering Sweden, Norway and Russia, with a generally cold climate. The Helsinki Times, Finland’s first English language daily newspaper, asked this question and noted how Finns "know how to use their time."

"Rain, snow or cold wind is not an obstacle to going out for jogging or riding a bicycle. When the weather is warmer over summer, people around Finland love to head outside and get active," the newspaper wrote in a 2021 article.

It also noted the country’s beautiful landscape, a "free, relaxed way of life," as well as its low level of crime and top education system. A high standard of living and a feeling of contentment in daily life was also listed. 

"One other factor which makes Finland different from most western countries is the equality, which translates into opportunities for everyone no matter what socio-economical background they are from," The Helsinki Times said. "Finland has a very large middle class, and very little poverty... Even the poorest people would get the best education and health care, and no one needs to be homeless."

It added: "All these of course may not make people happy, but it sure makes them contempt and relaxed."

This story was reported from Cincinnati.