Data visualization uncovers world’s happiest countries

By Eshan Wickrema and Lachlan James

Are you happy? No; seriously? If so, what are the things in your life that give you joy and deliver quality living standards? If not, what makes you groan when you wake up in the morning?

Well, a bunch of boffins backed by the UN – from across fields including economics, psychology, survey analysis, national statistics, health and public policy – set out to find out. Thus, in 2012, they published the first World Happiness Report. The so-called ‘Happiness Index’ that was produced comprised six key variables that contributed to the total happiness score of each country. These variables were defined as: GDP per capita, Social support, Healthy life expectancy, Freedom to make life choices, Generosity and Perceptions of corruption. Each country’s score was ranked in comparison to a fictional dystopian nation – which was given a perfect rating of 10.

The second report was published in 2013, with the latest report released in the middle of 2015 by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN). Read more about the UNSDSN and the World Happiness Report HERE >

For more information about the report, the scoring process and to access the underlying data, GO HERE >

Using Yellowfin’s Business Intelligence software and data visualization capabilities, we’ve mapped the data.

So, just where are the happiest places on earth?

2015 World Happiness Report, mapped


  • Countries with the highest happiness ratings are chiefly grouped around Northern Europe, North and South America
    • Notable outliers include:
      • APAC: Australia (7.284) and New Zealand (7.286)
      • Middle East: Israel (7.278), Saudi Arabia (6.411), the UAE (6.901) and Oman (6.853)
      • South East Asia: Thailand (6.455)
  • Countries with ‘middle of the road’ happiness ratings are predominantly clustered in Eastern Europe and Asia
    • Prominent outliers include:
      • South America: Nicaragua (5.828), Ecuador (5.975), Peru (5.824), Bolivia (5.890) and Paraguay (5.878)
      • Asia: Indonesia (5.399), Malaysia (5.770), Philippines (5.073) and Vietnam (5.360)
      • Africa: Libya (5.754), Algeria (5.605), Nigeria (5.268) and Zambia (5.129)
  • Countries with lower happiness ratings are concentrated in Africa and the Middle East
    • Noteworthy outliers include:
      • South Asia: India (4.565), Sri Lanka (4.271), Bangladesh (4.694), Myanmar (4.307) and Cambodia (3.819)
      • South America: Haiti (4.518), Dominican Republic (4.885) and Honduras (4.788)

Trends: Consistency with geographic groupings and developed economies

The relative ‘happiness’ of individual countries does appear to have a strong correlation with both geographic location and relative wealth. This of course makes sense on a fairly basic level. The relative location of countries (especially those within the same continent) often plays a large role in the development of cultural expectations and practices as well as access to resources. For these reasons, location and wealth are closely intertwined, with the capacity to spend money directly linked to things such as GDP per capita, healthcare and social services.

Perhaps predictably, countries whose citizens have the biggest proverbial grin on their face predominantly hail from northern Europe, North and South America. Those who can crack a sedated smile (those countries with middle of the range happiness ratings) tend to live in Eastern Europe and Asia. Unsurprisingly, those with the frowniest of faces (lowest happiness ratings) come from Africa and the Middle East.

Of course, there isn’t a completely ‘water tight’ association between the happiness of each country and their geographic positioning or wealth. For instance, when it comes to geography, Oceanic nations Australia (7.284) and New Zealand (7.286) boast high happiness ratings, but are located nowhere near Northern Europe, North and South America. Similarly, the African nations of Libya (5.754), Algeria (5.605), Nigeria (5.268) and Zambia (5.129) are positioned in the middle band of relative happiness, despite the fact that most countries with middling happiness ratings are clustered in Eastern Europe and Asia. Similarly, while countries at the lower end of the happiness index are chiefly concentrated in Africa and the Middle East, South Asia – India (4.565), Sri Lanka (4.271), Bangladesh (4.694), Myanmar (4.307) and Cambodia (3.819) – and South America – Haiti (4.518), Dominican Republic (4.885) and Honduras (4.788) – provide notable exceptions.

While it is certainly true that a country’s wealth does play a large role in its ability to deliver support networks and services that impact livelihood, and therefore happiness, GDP per capita is not always the overriding determining factor of happiness. Take Oman and Japan – both located in Asia. Oman has relatively low GDP per capita of ($22k USD), while Japan has relatively high GDP per capita ($40k USD). Interestingly, Oman has a strong happiness rating of 6.853, while for all its economic might, Japan has a significantly weaker happiness rating of 5.987. Japan is widely known for, what many perceive as, high-pressure social expectations and work practices, which may impact people’s perceptions of wellbeing – especially ‘social support’ and ‘freedom to make life choices’.

Now, while trends, and the underpinning reasons for them, are interesting, we still haven’t answered the dominant question on your mind: Just where do the happiest people in the world live?

2015 world happiness rankings

Hint: Use the filter button to change what is displayed on the chart


  • Switzerland boasts the world’s highest happiness rating (7.587)
    • The 10 highest happiness index scores are dominated by Nordic countries
    • Canada, New Zealand and Australia are the only countries inside the top 10 from outside Europe
  • Togo has the world’s lowest happiness rating of the 158 countries assessed (2.839)
    • The 10 lowest happiness index scores are dominated by countries in Africa
    • Afghanistan and Syria (both Middle East) are the only two countries inside the bottom 10 from outside Africa

Nordic nations pave the way while African countries get left behind

The research is in, and Switzerland (7.587) is the happiest place on earth – or at least it’s perceived that way by its citizens.

While Switzerland claimed top spot in the 2015 World Happiness Report, the top 10 positions on the global happiness index are dominated by Nordic countries – Denmark (7.527), Finland (7.406), Iceland (7.561), Norway (7.522) and Sweden (7.364). Canada (7.427), New Zealand (7.286) and Australia (7.284) are the only countries inside the top 10 from outside Europe.

But, what about the bottom of the pile? Which country’s citizens are living out the bleakest lives – according the results of the 2015 World Happiness Report, anyway?

Hint: Use the filter button to change what is displayed on the chart

Of the 158 countries assessed, that unenviable mantle goes to the African nation of Togo (2.839). In fact, eight of the 10 lowest scoring nations on the 2015 happiness index come from the African continent – Togo (2.839), Burundi (2.906), Benin (3.340), Rwanda (3.465), Burkina Faso (3.587), Ivory Coast (3.655), Guinea (3.656) and Chad (3.667). Syria (3.006) and Afghanistan (3.575) – both located in the Middle East – are the only two countries that fall inside the bottom 10 happiness scores that come from outside Africa.

Where to next?

While the UN’s report into the relative happiness of the world’s countries is interesting, it’s also clear that the assessable factors that impact the overall happiness score of each country would change over time.

So, how have the fortunes of countries altered since the first World Happiness Report was released in 2012, compared to the latest data published in the 2015 study? Is your country moving forwards or backwards?

To answer that question, you’ll just have to keep an eye out for the follow-up blog on this topic, published on

We recommend

Cricket: Data Visualization predicts 2015 Ashes outcome >

Data analysis predicts 2015 Wimbledon men’s champion >

Data Viz reveals why Game of Thrones season 5 most popular >

Data Visualization: Game of Thrones seasons 5 most divisive >

Data visualization shows most popular Game of Thrones Season >