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March 24, 2017

The secret to happiness? Maybe it's living in Norway

Daily Briefing

The United States is the world's 14th happiest nation, according to the United Nations' (U.N.) second "World Happiness Report."

The report was prepared by an international panel of social scientists convened by the U.N. and edited by academics from Columbia University, the London School of Economics, and the University of British Columbia. The report assessed 155 countries' happiness levels based on Gallup survey data about perceptions of health, freedom, corruption, income, and other factors.

The report ranked Norway as the happiest nation, followed by:

2. Denmark

3. Iceland

4. Switzerland

5. Finland

6. Netherlands

7. Canada

8. New Zealand

9. Australia

10. Sweden

"All of the top countries rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income, and good governance," according to NPR's "Goats and Soda." The researchers added that about three-quarters of the variation among countries' happiness levels can be explained by six factors: GDP per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, social support, trust, the perceived freedom to make life choices, and generosity.

Jon-Åge Øyslebø, minister of communications, cultural affairs, and education at the Norwegian Embassy, said part of the reason why his country earned the top spot was that it provided broad access to "higher education [and] high-quality health services."

How the US fared

The United States was ranked 14th this year, down from 13th in 2015. According to the New York Times, the United States fell despite a recent gain in income and healthy years of life expectancy.

Interactive map: The states with the healthiest sleep habits

Those factors were outweighed by declines in social support, trust, perceived freedom in life choices, and generosity. "We're getting richer, but our social capital is deteriorating," Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist who helped edit the report, argued.

Social determinants of health

The report also shed light on the close relationship between health and income, education, and job status. "For all three of these markers, both within and across societies, those at the top fare better, in terms of both death and illness," the authors wrote. "The channels for these effects are not yet widely understood, but are thought to include access to health care, better health behaviors, and better nutrition" (Aubrey, "Goats and Soda," NPR, 3/20; Chokshi, New York Times, 3/20; Rankin, The Guardian, 3/20; UN report, accessed 3/21).

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