World Happiness Report: Remarkable resilience against COVID-19

By: Shumaila Islam

The world has its eyes set on the World Happiness Report released on March 19, 2021 and there is a reason why.

2020 was a year like no other. There were fears of death, disease, hunger, economic insecurity, anxiety and loneliness, but the World Happiness Report suggests that even a massive pandemic has not broken people’s spirits. The global life evaluations have shown remarkable resilience in the face of the deadly coronavirus.

The results of recent Gallup World Poll show that individual emotions changed during the pandemic, particularly worsening during the lockdown. However, this temporary setback did not have much effect on the long term happiness of people.

In the report, nine of the top ten happiest places in the world are held by European countries. Finland ranks first – yet again – with a happiness index of 7.842, Iceland comes second, followed by Denmark, Switzerland and Netherland.

COVID-19, as the biggest health crisis of the century, clearly demonstrates the power of trust and pro-social behavior. Trust and the ability to count on others are major supports to life even in the face of a crisis. Although there were significant increases in average sadness and worry, the report shows that overall happiness rankings were surprising stable. The top countries retained their position. The major reason for this retention is high trust and low inequality in these countries. Both these factors helped them keep death rates low and social coherence high; hence maintaining their favorable positions.

“Surprisingly there was not, on average, a decline in well-being when measured by people’s own evaluation of their lives. One possible explanation is that people see Covid-19 as a common, outside threat affecting everybody and that this has generated a greater sense of solidarity and fellow-feeling.” said University of British Columbia professor John Helliwell.

In 2020 report, six factors were found to support well-being all over the globe. These factors were income, health, someone to count on, freedom, generosity, and trust. In 2021, these factors continue to exhibit their powers exactly in the same way.

Talking about the situation in USA, it ranked up four sports (spots) from last year to number 14 this year, even beating out their neighbor Canada (who slipped down to number 15 this year). Happiness experts say that the major problems that affect the well-being of people of United States include racial tensions and growing income inequality between the richest and poorest residents (rich and the poor). USA definitely needs to bridge these gaps in order to further improve its rating on the Happiness Index.

Report co-author Sonja Lyubormirsky mentioned that American culture prizes signs of wealth such as big houses and multiple cars more than other countries, and material things don’t make us as happy. On the other hand, people’s perception that their country was handling the pandemic well contributed to an overall rise in well-being. Due to this reason, several Asian countries fared better than they had in last year’s rankings. China moved to 84th place from 94th last year which is a huge leap forward.

Pakistan, unfortunately has slipped significantly from 66(World Happiness Report 2020) to 105th position in just a matter of one year. This is a huge drop during the year of crisis. Pakistan, as a developing country, had to strive very hard to keep the pandemic in control. Though the country managed to flatten the curve in 2020 and did well in handling COVID-19, its happiness index (still)   dropped considerably. One of the major reasons of (for) this drop could be minimal support when it comes to psychological repercussions of COVID-19 that is (like) depression and anxiety. Closure of work and schools caused an economical, physical as well as mental burden on many families. Pakistan has a very integrated society that takes a lot of its strength from its extroversion and close social setup. However, COVID-19 hit the core of its strength, hitting the psychological side of the community more than ever.

World Happiness Report Ranking

As the pandemic persists and the waves of COVID-19 cases recur, it is critical to examine the causes, antecedents, and consequences of shifts in well-being and social connection in 2021 and beyond. 

Why Finland has retained its top position in happiness index since past few years, is very well explained by a Finnish philosopher Esa Saarinen, “I think Finns are pretty content at being what we are. We don’t really have to be more.”

The writer is an engineer, an entrepreneur and a student of MBA. She can be reached at [email protected]