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Dr Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general, said allowing children to use social media was like giving them medicine that is not proven to be safe. Image Credit: Shutterstock

LONDON: There is rising unhappiness among younger people, and the trend has caused the United States and some large western European countries to fall down a global wellbeing index, while Nordic nations retain their grip on the top spots.

In North America, Australia and New Zealand, happiness among groups under 30 has dropped dramatically since 2006-10, with older generations now happier than the young.

Dr Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general, said allowing children to use social media was like giving them medicine that is not proven to be safe. He said the failure of governments to better regulate social media in recent years was “insane”.

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Murthy spoke to the Guardian as new data revealed that young people across North America were now less happy than their elders.

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By contrast, in Central and Eastern Europe, happiness increased substantially at all ages during the same period, while in Western Europe people of all ages reported similar levels of happiness.

Happiness inequality increased in every region except Europe, which authors described as a “worrying trend”.

Finland has been named the world’s happiest country for the seventh year running in an annual UN-sponsored index. Image Credit: AFP
Best and worst
Finland remained the world’s happiest country for a seventh straight year in an annual UN sponsored World Happiness Report published on Wednesday.

And Nordic countries kept their places among the 10 most cheerful, with Denmark, Iceland and Sweden trailing Finland.

The UAE moved up to the 21st position from 26 last year.

Afghanistan, plagued by a humanitarian catastrophe since the Taliban regained control in 2020, stayed at the bottom of the 143 countries surveyed.

For the first time since the report was published more than a decade ago, the United States and Germany were not among the 20 happiest nations, coming in 23rd and 24th respectively.

In turn, Costa Rica and Kuwait entered the top 20 at 12 and 13.

The report noted the happiest countries no longer included any of the world’s largest countries.

“In the top 10 countries only the Netherlands and Australia have populations over 15 million. In the whole of the top 20, only Canada and the UK have populations over 30 million.”

The sharpest decline in happiness since 2006-10 was noted in Afghanistan, Lebanon and Jordan, while the Eastern European countries Serbia, Bulgaria and Latvia reported the biggest increases.

The happiness ranking is based on individuals’ self-assessed evaluations of life satisfaction, as well as GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity and corruption.

The rise was especially distinct among the old and in Sub-Saharan Africa, reflecting inequalities in “income, education, health care, social acceptance, trust, and the presence of supportive social environments at the family, community and national levels,” the authors said.

The annual World Happiness Report, launched in 2012 to support the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, is based on data from US market research company Gallup, analysed by a global team now led by the University of Oxford.

Top 20
1. Finland

2. Denmark

3. Iceland

4. Sweden

5. Israel

6. Netherlands

7. Norway

8. Luxembourg

9. Switzerland

10. Australia

11. New Zealand

12. Costa Rica

13. Kuwait

14. Austria

15. Canada

16. Belgium

17. Ireland

18. Czechia

19. Lithuania

20. United Kingdom

At the bottom of the list
Afghanistan remains the world's lowest-ranked country for happiness. Lebanon, Lesotho, Sierra Leone and Congo also ranked at the bottom.

People in 143 countries and territories are asked to evaluate their life on a scale from zero to 10, with 10 representing their best possible life. Results from the past three years are averaged to create a ranking.

Finland remained in the top spot - with an average score of 7.7 - followed closely by Denmark, Iceland and Sweden, while Afghanistan and Lebanon held the bottom two spots, with scores of 1.7 and 2.7 respectively.

In broad terms, the rankings are loosely correlated with countries’ prosperity, but other factors such as life expectancy, social bonds, personal freedom and corruption appear to influence individuals’ assessments too.

Findings at odds

The United States dropped out of the top 20 for the first time, falling to 23rd place from 15th last year, due to a big drop in the sense of wellbeing of Americans aged under 30, the report shows.

While a global ranking of the happiness of those aged 60 and over would place the United States 10th, under 30s’ life evaluations alone put the United States in 62nd place.

The findings are at odds with much previous research into wellbeing, which found happiness highest in childhood and early teens, before falling to its lowest in middle age, then rising around retirement.

The United States and Germany were not among the 20 happiest nations, coming in 23rd and 24th respectively.

“Youth, especially in North America, are experiencing a mid-life crisis today,” said Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, a University of Oxford economics professor and one of the report’s editors.

Millenials and younger age groups in North America were significantly more likely than older age groups to report loneliness.

But De Neve said a range of factors was likely to be lowering young peoples’ happiness, including increased polarisation over social issues, negative aspects of social media, and economic inequality that made it harder for young people to afford their own homes than in the past.

While the phenomenon is starkest in the United States, the age gap in wellbeing is also wide in Canada and Japan, and to a decreasing extent in France, Germany and Britain, which all lost ground in this year’s rankings.

By contrast, many of the countries with the biggest improvements in wellbeing are former communist countries in central and eastern Europe.

There, unlike in richer countries, young people report significantly better quality of life than older people, often on a par or better than in western Europe.

“Slovenia, Czechia and Lithuania are moving into the top 20 and that’s wholly driven by their youth,” De Neve said.

Key insights
The top 10 countries have remained much the same since before COVID. Finland is still top, with Denmark now very close, and all five Nordic countries in the top 10. But in the next 10, there is more change, with the transition countries of Eastern Europe rising in happiness (especially Czechia, Lithuania and Slovenia). Partly for this reason the United States and Germany have fallen to 23 and 24 in the rankings.


In many but not all regions, the young are happier than the old. But in North America happiness has fallen so sharply for the young that they are now less happy than the old. By contrast, in the transition countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the young are much happier than the old. In Western Europe as a whole happiness is similar at all ages, while elsewhere it tends to decline over the life cycle (with an occasional upturn for the old).

For these reasons, the ranking of countries by happiness is very different for the young and for the old. As between generations, after taking into account age and life circumstances, those born before 1965 have life evaluations about one-quarter of a point higher than those born after 1980.


The countries of Central and Eastern Europe have had the largest increase in happiness – by similar amounts in all age groups. The gains in the former Soviet Union were half as large. In East Asia too there were large increases, especially among the old.

By contrast, happiness fell in South Asia in all age groups. It also fell in North America, especially among the young. And it fell in the Middle East and North Africa in all age groups.


Older age is associated with higher life satisfaction in India, refuting some claims that the positive association between age and life satisfaction only exists in high-income nations.

On average, older men in India are more satisfied with life than older women, but when taking all other measures into account, older women report higher life satisfaction than their male counterparts.

Older adults with secondary or higher education and those of higher social castes report higher life satisfaction than counterparts without formal education and those from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

Satisfaction with living arrangements, perceived discrimination, and self-rated health emerge as the top three predictors of life satisfaction in this study.

In Central and Eastern Europe, the young are now as happy as in Western Europe, and among the old the gap between East and West is one half of what it was in 2006-10, though still large (one whole point on the scale of 0 to 10).


Since 2006-10 there has been a large increase in the inequality of happiness in every region except Europe. And it has increased especially for the old. The biggest increase is in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Life satisfaction gradually drops from childhood through adolescence into adulthood. Globally, adolescents aged 15-24 still report higher life satisfaction than adults aged 25 or above, but the gap is narrowing in Western Europe and recently reversed in North America and Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) due to negative trends for young people. Conversely, the gap is widening in Sub-Saharan Africa due to increasing life satisfaction among the youth.

In middle-to-late adolescence (age 15-24), there was a positive 2006-2019 global trend in life satisfaction, which ended with the pandemic, in line with adult trends.


Global trends obscure regional variations, some of which differ from adult trends. Negative trends between 2006 and 2022 at age 15-24 are found in North America and ANZ, Western Europe, Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and South Asia, and positive trends in Sub-Saharan Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia.

In early-to-middle adolescence (age 10-15), global well-being data is lacking, with many world regions having no available information. Evidence primarily from high-income countries indicates significant life satisfaction declines post-COVID-19, especially among females, contrasting with East Asian countries, where life satisfaction increased. There is mixed evidence regarding pre-pandemic trends.

Females start reporting lower life satisfaction than males by around age 12. This gap widens at ages 13 and 15, and the pandemic has amplified these inequalities. These patterns are primarily observed in high-income countries due to limited data worldwide. In contrast, global data for middle-to-late adolescence (age 15-24) shows no global gender differences from 2006 until 2013, but from 2014, females began reporting higher life satisfaction than males, although the gap has narrowed following the pandemic. This global gender gap masks regional differences, and is more pronounced in lower-income countries, with no gender differences observed in high-income countries.

Life satisfaction levels, trends and correlates vary across age, gender, world regions and countries, and economic development levels. This underscores the importance of addressing current data gaps to enhance our understanding of child and adolescent well-being and how to promote it globally.

- World Happiness Report 2024