OSLO, Norway – If you want to pursue happiness, grab a winter coat.
A new report shows Norway is the happiest country on Earth, Americans are getting sadder, and it takes more than just money to be happy.
What makes Norway and other northern European countries top the happiness list has a lot to do with a sense of community and broad social welfare support, according to experts and cheerful Norwegians, including one whose job it is to make people laugh.
“The answer to why Norwegians are happy – it’s a bit boring – it’s well functioning institutions,” Norwegian comedian Harald Eia said. “The schools, health care, police, all the bureaucracy treat people with respect and that trickles down and makes us happy, makes us trust each other, makes us feel a part of the whole community. So it’s very boring: bureaucrats are the secret to our happiness.”
Norway vaulted to the top slot in the World Happiness Report despite lower prices for oil, a key part of its economy. In the U.S., happiness has been declining for the past decade even as the nation has become richer.
The United States was 14th in the latest ranking, down from No. 13 last year, and over the years Americans steadily have been rating themselves less happy.
“It’s the human things that matter. If the riches make it harder to have frequent and trustworthy relationships between people, is it worth it?” asked John Helliwell, the lead author of the report and an economist at the University of British Columbia in Canada (ranked No. 7). “The material can stand in the way of the human.”
Studying happiness may seem frivolous, but serious academics have long been calling for more testing about people’s emotional well-being, especially in the United States. In 2013, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report recommending that federal statistics and surveys, which normally deal with income, spending, health and housing, include a few extra questions on happiness because it would lead to better policy that affects people’s lives.
Norway moved from No. 4 to the top spot in the rankings, which combine economic, health and polling data compiled by economists that are averaged over three years from 2014 to 2016.
Previous champ Denmark fell to second, and Iceland, Switzerland and Finland round out the top five.
Central African Republic fell to last on the happiness list and is joined at the bottom by Burundi, Tanzania, Syria and Rwanda.
While most countries were either getting happier or at least treading water, America’s happiness score has dropped 5 percent over the past decade, baffling Eia, the Norwegian comedian.
“Why can’t Americans who are the brightest people in the world do the same thing as we do to make the happiest people?” Eia asked. “I don’t get it.”