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Americans got a bit happier last year, but they've still got nothing on the Finns

A woman skates in Helsinki, on a sunny but frosty Boxing Day on Dec. 26, with temperatures around 9 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heikki Saukkomaa
Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty Images
A woman skates in Helsinki, on a sunny but frosty Boxing Day on Dec. 26, with temperatures around 9 degrees Fahrenheit.

The World Happiness Report's annual rankings remain remarkably stable despite the lingering effects of the pandemic across the globe.

Finland once again ranked the happiest according to people's self-reported assessment of their lives on a scale of zero to 10, with zero being the worst possible life they could have expected to have, and 10 being the best.

Finland's neighbors, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Norway, all ranked in the top 10.

The United States saw its ranking edge up slightly from last year, from 19th to 16th.

As explained by Planet Money in a 2019 interview with economist John Helliwell, one of the editors of the report, two of the biggest factors in people's rating of their lives were their incomes and their social support — "somebody to count on in times of trouble," Helliwell said.

Reports of stress have been higher during the years of the pandemic. People also said they were more generous with their time and money last year; they were also more thoughtful toward strangers.

The Nordic sweep near the top of the happiness list may not be all it appears to be. A Finnish writer argued in Slate that Scandinavia's happiness rankings aren't the result of the country's sterling quality of life, but because people in those countries have a lower bar for what they think their best possible life could have been.

"Consistent with their Lutheran heritage, the Nordic countries are united in their embrace of curbed aspirations," wrote Jukka Savolainen. "People are socialized to believe that what they have is as good as it gets — or close enough."

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