Riyadh city skyline
Riyadh city skyline at night. The kingdom is followed by the UAE, which emerged as the second happiest in the Arab world and 27th globally in the happiness index for 2021, while Bahrain came third in the Arab world and 35th globally among 149 countries around the world. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Saudi Arabia has been ranked the happiest nation in the Arab region and 21st globally, according to the World Happiness Report 2021, released by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

The kingdom is followed by the UAE, which emerged as the second happiest in the Arab world and 27th globally in the happiness index for 2021, while Bahrain came third in the Arab world and 35th globally among 149 countries around the world.

For the fourth year in a row, Finland has been crowned the world’s happiest country. The report coincides with the International Day of Happiness that falls on March 20. Nine out of the top 10 happiest countries are in Europe, with Denmark coming in the second place after Finland, followed by Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg and Austria, while New Zealand is the only non-European country to be ranked among the top 10, picking up the 9th spot.

The US shot up to No. 14, up four spots, when it ranked 18 in 2020, while Canada slipped to No. 15 this year. The United Kingdom slipped five spots from 2020, coming in at No. 18, while Germany is at 17, up 10 spots.

There were similar success rates in Australia, which ranked No. 12. Belgium ranked 20th, while Spain and Italy ranked 27th and 28th respectively.

China, one of the countries that had a challenging time last year, made the top 20 in 2021, coming in at No. 19. It was a dramatic leap from last year, when China was at 94. Another big leap was Croatia, which rose to 23 on the list this year, up from No. 79 in 2020.

As for the unhappiest countries in the world, Afghanistan led it with 2.52 points, followed by Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Botswana and Lesotho. India ranked the worst among the major countries of the world with the 139th position.

Launched in 2012, the annual survey, ranks global happiness in countries around the world. Typically, the statisticians base the ranking on data from the Gallup World Poll. But this year was a bit different. Since the researchers were unable to do face-to-face interviews in a number of countries, they focused on the relationship between well-being and COVID-19 in order to rank the countries.

It comes as no surprise as Finland once again takes the top spot as the happiest country in the world. It has always ranked very high on the measures of mutual trust that have helped to protect lives and livelihoods during the pandemic. The rankings overall remained very similar to last year.

A total of 22 countries advanced on the happiness index. “Surprisingly there was not, on average, a decline in well-being when measured by people’s own evaluation of their lives,” said University of British Columbia Professor John Helliwell, one of the authors behind the survey.

The report marks a sombre moment as COVID-19 continues to rage on a little more than a year since it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. More than 2.7 million people have died worldwide and the threat of variants and uneven policy decisions on how to respond has created uncertainty in what the future holds.

But despite this, there is hope that the end game is in sight, as vaccine rollout steadily increases while many continue to adhere to mask mandates and physical distancing.

This year’s Happiness Report faced with a unique challenge in trying to understand what effect the pandemic has had on subjective well-being and vice versa. Of all the factors usually supporting happiness, the most important for explaining COVID-19 death rates were people’s trust in each other, and confidence in their governments.

Among the fields considered important are measuring the impact of the pandemic on the work environment, social relations quality, individuals’ mental health, confidence in government procedures and the country’s ability to overcome the repercussions of the pandemic. It also measures the unemployment rates due to the pandemic, the inequality and the spread of loneliness, as all these factors affect the happiness index.

Saudi Arabia achieved distinguished results in indicators of GDP, social support, average life expectancy, freedom to make life decisions, generosity and confronting corruption.

Khaled Bin Abdullah Al Bakr, Executive Director of the Implementation Support Sector and Acting Head of Marketing and Communication at the Centre of Quality of Life Programme, affirmed that Saudi Arabia’s progress in the World Happiness Report for 2021 comes as a result of the leadership’s interest in the quality of life and the happiness and well-being of citizens and residents, especially in light of the pandemic.