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On International Day of Happiness, which nations are happiest?

March 20, 2013|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
  • The happiest place on Earth? Norway, according to global reports.
The happiest place on Earth? Norway, according to global reports. ( )

The United Nations created the International Day of Happiness, which is celebrated Wednesday (today), to recognize "the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world..."

It's a different way of evaluating nations apart from their economic wealth. With that in mind, I thought about a report last year from the London-based think tank Legatum Group that ranked 142 countries and came up with a Prosperity Index. It weighed factors like health, education, governance, personal freedom, etc.

The overall happiness rankings came out like this:

1. Norway
2. Denmark
3. Sweden
4. Australia
5. New Zealand
6. Canada
7. Finland
8. The Netherlands
9. Switzerland
10. Ireland

The numbers change when you filter by various criteria. For example, New Zealand ranks No. 1 for education; Luxembourg, No. 1 for health; and Canada, No. 1 for personal freedom. (Go to the Prosperity Index map and create your own rankings by category.)  

Lowest, or most unhappiest countries, were:

1. Central African Republic
2. Democratic Republic of the Congo
3. Afghanistan
4. Chad
5. Haiti
6. Burundi
7. Togo
8. Zimbabwe
9. Yemen
10. Ethiopia

A separate Gallup World Poll taken between 2005 and 2011 came up with the same top 10 happiest nations as Legatum, though in a slightly different order (Denmark was No. 1). The World Happiness Report last year provides more data and tables on the topic.

What does this all mean? Some countries have a ways to go to boost their happiness quotient -- combating obstacles such as poverty, illiteracy, disease, etc. -- and the world as a whole has a responsibility to see that changes are made. How nice to set aside a day to foster exactly that.
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