The United Nations-supported World Happiness Report 2024 has found rising unhappiness in younger people in the US and some Western European countries to drop down the well-being index, while Nordic nations hold on to their top spots.

Launched in 2012 to support the UN's sustainable development goals, the World Happiness Report analyzes the well-being of people in 143 countries. Those interviewed are asked to evaluate their lives on a scale of zero to ten. The results of the last three years are examined to create a ranking. The rankings are loosely connected to countries' prosperity, as well as life expectancy, social bonds, personal freedom and corruption,

With an overall score of 7.7, Finland has retained the top spot followed by Denmark, Iceland and Sweden. Afghanistan and Lebanon hold the bottom two spots with scores of just 1.7 and 2.7 respectively. 

Ireland is down three slots since 2023, dropping from 14th to 17th for 2024. Costa Rica and Kuwait entered the top 20 at 12 and 13.

For the first time since the report began in 2012, the United States has dropped out of the top 20, from 15th to 23rd. This is due to a big drop in the sense of well-being in Americans aged under 30. If the report focused on those aged 60 the US would rank as number 10. However, under 30s evaluation would see the US rank at #62,

Youth's midlife crisis

Professor of Economics at the University of Oxford, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, told the Irish Independent, "Youth, especially in North America, are experiencing a mid-life crisis today."

Loneliness in millennials and younger age groups in North America is on the rise. However, De Neve added that other factors are adding to younger people's unhappiness including an increased polarisation over social issues, negative aspects of social media, and economic inequality which is making it harder for young people to afford their own homes.

This youth unhappiness is clearest in the United States' result but similar patterns are seen in Canada, Japan, France, Germany and Britain. 

Former communist countries in central and eastern Europe have seen the biggest improvements in well-being. Unlike wealthier countries, younger people in these countries report a better quality of life than older people. Slovenia, Czechia and Lithuania are now moving into the top 20.

Speaking about Afghanistan, which is at the bottom of the rankings, and was taken over once more by the Taliban in 2020, De Neve told RTE "The average person in Afghanistan reports 1.7 on the scale from 0 to 10 in terms of life satisfaction, otherwise the quality of life as people experience it is extraordinarily low in Afghanistan."

Finnish happiness

So, what makes the Finnish people the happiest in the world? A happiness researcher at the University of Helsinki, Jennifer De Paola told RTE that it is the Finns' connection to nature and work-life balance that are key.

She added that Finns have a "more attainable understanding of what a successful life is", compared to, for example, the United States.

Finland boast of a strong welfare society, trust in state authorities, low levels of corruption and free healthcare and education.

She concluded "Finnish society is permeated by a sense of trust, freedom, and high level of autonomy."