Despite the bitter cold, northern countries lead the report. As in previous years, Nordic countries top the list with Denmark coming in at number one. This is followed by Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Austria and Iceland.
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In 11th place out of 150 countries surveyed is Israel, coming in right before New Zealand, the UAE, the United States, Ireland and Luxembourg. A year ago, Israel was in 14th place, meaning it rose three spots in the rankings.
The countries with the most unhappy citizens are in Africa and other poverty-stricken areas. The country with the lowest happiness level is Togo. Higher up on the list are Guinea, the Central African Republic, Comoros, Tanzania and Senegal, alongside the European country with the most unhappy people: Bulgaria.
According to Professor John Helliwell, an economist from the University of British Columbia who wrote the report, the happiness index improved from 2005 to the present report. However, while Latin America and the Caribbean have shown dramatic improvement in their happiness index, countries in the Middle East, after the popular uprisings that have recently taken place, exhibited happiness levels drop by 11.7%.
"The Arab Spring wasn't good for a lot of people in those regions," Helliwell said. "But the major declines were the countries that were hardest hit in the euro crisis – i.e. Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal.”
“Happiness consists of positive emotions experienced by a person – pleasure in life, satisfaction, a sense of well-being, optimism and a finding meaning in life," says Effi Gil, a medical psychology expert. "In countries where there is economic prosperity, high taxation policies that reduce disparities, personal freedom and real impact on someone’s personal life – there is a higher happiness index, as can be seen in the case of northern countries on the list.”
“On the other hand, in countries where there is a totalitarian regime, repeated wars, corruption and lack of any real influence of one's own wellbeing, there is an increased feeling of individual powerlessness and low indices of happiness.”
So how did it happen that Israel’s happiness index is among the highest in the world, despite the constant criticism and the dissatisfaction seemingly shared by most Israelis? "Israel has always been perceived as an optimistic people," said Gil. "If you look at the polls published on Rosh Hashana, it seems that most of the population is satisfied with its life," he said.
"Even with the gaps, there is a higher sense of freedom, constant hope for improvement in the economy, for improvement in security and a feeling that in comparison to that countries that surround us, we are in a favorable position and thus, there is a relatively high level of satisfaction for Israelis with their lives,” Gil noted.
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