Real Life

Equality, Freedom And 4pm Finishes: Secrets From The Happiest Nation On Earth

The World Happiness Report is out, and - despite the much-touted delights of Hygge - Denmark has been knocked off the top spot.

Instead, Norway has risen from fourth place last year to claim the crown as the happiest place on earth.

The annual United Nations survey measures the wellbeing of the citizens of 155 countries by asking them this question:

"Imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top.

"The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?"

Norwegians responded with an average score of 7.54, putting it top of the world (literally) for a general feeling of content.

Norway: a land of beauty and equality

Other Scandinavian countries including Denmark, Sweden and Finland also landed places in the top 10 while the United States dropped a place, which the report put down to a "social crisis" of "rising inequality, corruption, isolation, and distrust".

The UK came in 19th place, with an average score of 6.7 out of 10 for happiness.

Unsurprisingly, countries facing high levels of conflict and poverty ranked among the world's unhappiest nations.

The world's happiest and saddest nations of 2017

Happiest top 10

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

Least happy top 10

  1. Yemen
  2. South Sudan
  3. Liberia
  4. Guinea
  5. Togo
  6. Rwanda
  7. Syria
  8. Tanzania
  9. Burundi
  10. Central African Republic

Why are Norwegians so happy?

The Great Outdoors and work-life balance: both central to Norway's national identity

So, what makes people living in Norway so damn happy?

"Norwegians are big on their equality both with gender and society. There are almost no social classes which, in contrast to the UK where I’m from, is a breath of fresh air," writes Jenny, who lived in Norway for a while and founded the happiness blog A Life Less Ordinary.

"Gender equality is high. It is not unusual to see women builders, bus drivers, carpenters and engineers – roles that in many countries are seen as dominantly male. Norway was also the pioneer in paternity leave for men. Men and women have 48 weeks paid leave that both are encouraged to take."

Norwegians also value the importance of the collective over the individual: communities are close-knit and supportive. Although taxes are high, there's less of a rich-poor divide compared to other first-world countries, and crime levels are relatively low.

Many Norwegians escape to their mountain cabins at the weekend

And let's not forget the importance placed on work-life balance. Employees in Norway tend to work an 8-4pm day. It's not unusual for parents to leave earlier than that to pick up their kids, in a country where family takes priority.

"There is a general notion that people work to live rather than live to work," reads a statement from the News in Norway website.

"Norwegian lifestyle focuses on family values, sports and outdoor life. Norwegians have a close relation to nature, and many families have 'hytter' (cabins) close to the coast or in the mountains. So don’t be surprised if you find your colleagues leaving work early on Fridays to go to their 'hytte.'"

Wild-berrying forms part of Norway's roam everywhere law

Norway is famed for its cold winters and in the northernmost parts of the country, the sun doesn't rise above the horizon for around two months.

But despite this, people living there embrace the Great Outdoors, with activities such as cross-country skiing, hiking and sledging. Norway is proud of its “allemannsretten” law, meaning people have the right to roam nearly everywhere they want and experience the magnificent beauty of fjords, mountains and seascapes.

This rule even includes the right to go wild-berrying and captures the way in which Norwegians' love of the outdoors is so much part of their national identity.

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