International differences

The differences in happiness between countries are big and they exhibit regional patterns. In both life satisfaction and wellbeing the Nordic countries fare best along with Ireland, Austria and Switzerland. Just below them are Anglo-Saxon countries, major parts of Latin America and the continental part of Europe. The unhappiest countries include Russia, large parts of Eastern Europe and many African countries. Regions that can be placed in the middle are large parts of southern Europe and Asia.

Several explanations of the differences between countries have been studied. Happiness tends to be is higher in economically prosperous countries with a high level of democratic freedom and rights where trust between people is high, and in countries with an individualistic culture1 2 3. However, we can’t safely say that any of these elements reliably cause happiness – correlation and correlations are often unclear.


  • 1. Stevenson B, Wolfers J. Economic Growth and Happiness: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity. 2008;:1–102.
  • 2. Tov W, Diener E. Culture and subjective well-being. Handbook of cultural psychology. 2007;:691–713.
  • 3. Diener E, Helliwell JF, Kahneman D. International Differences in Well-Being. Oxford University Press US; 2010.