Mapped: Global Happiness Levels in 2021
“Are you happy?” is a deceptively complex question to both ask and answer.
It’s generally understood that having enough money to cover your needs and wants can help you live a relatively happy, comfortable life—and recent research shows this relationship may increase linearly as income levels grow, as well.
However, there’s much more to it than that. Happiness levels depend not just on financial security, but also broader perceptions of one’s social support, personal freedom, and more.
This series of map pulls data from the World Happiness Report to uncover the average scores of 149 countries between 2018-2020, and which ones emerged the happiest or unhappiest. We also look at the most and least improved countries in every region.
How is Happiness Measured?
First, let’s look at the factors used to calculate world happiness levels. Some clear indicators are health and wealth, both metrics that have been steadily on the rise worldwide. The report takes these into account, weighting GDP per capita and life expectancy at birth into the scores.
The report also looks at more intangible aspects, collecting survey responses around:
- Social support
- Freedom to make life choices
- Perceptions of government/ business corruption
- Positive or negative affects (Recent experience of emotions)
This year, there was a natural focus on the negative affect measure of the COVID-19 pandemic on happiness levels, such as exacerbating mental health risks. In addition, such measurements varied depending on each country’s response to the crisis.
Looking Closely at Regional Happiness Levels
Worldwide happiness comes in at an average score of 5.5, a marginal improvement since our previous coverage of this report in 2019. Let’s dive into regional outlooks for happiness levels.
Current Mood: Happy (6.1)
Canada retains its spot as the happiest country in North America, although its overall global ranking has dropped over the years. In 2019, it was ranked in ninth place globally, dropping to 11th in the 2020 edition, and declining further to 14th place in this year’s report.
Haiti continues to fare poorly as the unhappiest in the region, with an average annual GDP growth of only 1.3% over 20 years. Its weak economy and political instability have been worsened by the pandemic—setting back efforts to reduce poverty and widening inequality.
Current Mood: Content (5.9)
With the largest middle class in the Americas—60% of its population—and a miniscule 0.1% extreme poverty rate, Uruguay is the happiest South American country. The nation has also achieved equitable access to basic services, from education to electricity.
The trio of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela are experiencing different stages of progress in happiness levels, but their relationship is very much interdependent.
Venezuela and Ecuador face similar economic challenges and sharp declines in oil prices. Venezuela is additionally acutely affected by socio-political unrest, triggering a mass exodus of citizens to Ecuador and Colombia alike. The silver lining is that the influx of highly-educated Venezuelan migrants may provide a 2% boost to Ecuador’s GDP.
Colombia, the most improved country, has halved its poverty rate in the last decade. In addition, it has welcomed almost 2 million Venezuelan migrants as of Dec 2020—and plans to provide them up to 10 years of protective status.
Current Mood: Happy (6.4)
Finland remains at the top of the leaderboard as the world’s happiest country. This year’s ranking was also influenced by high levels of trust in the way the COVID-19 pandemic was handled.
Meanwhile, the shock of the COVID-19 crisis is expected to be short-lived in Croatia, which is the most improved country. This is partly due to its steady pre-pandemic economic gains, although risks remain.
In the unhappiest country of Ukraine, conflicts continue to cause stress on its politics, security, and economy. In particular, government corruption remains a big public issue.
Middle East and Central Asia
Current Mood: It’s Complicated (5.3)
Saudi Arabia is the most improved country in the region, as it continues to reduce its oil dependence, diversify its economy, and bolster its public services. It has also been making some progress towards gender equality.
The tourism and hospitality industries contribute nearly 20% of Jordan’s GDP—and COVID-19 has caused a prolonged economic decline in the country along with the headwinds of these industries.
Although Afghanistan has seen improvements in access to basic services and its agricultural economy, challenges remain with prolonged conflict and violence. A post-pandemic recovery in the world’s unhappiest country might take several years.
East Asia and Oceania
Current Mood: Neutral (5.5)
Both New Zealand and Taiwan saw a successful COVID-19 response and recovery boosting their positions in the global happiness rankings. In fact, New Zealand was the only non-European country to make it into the top 10 on the global happiness list.
Note: As the report only covers 149 countries, “Oceania” only refers to Australia and New Zealand in this instance.
Although India remains the unhappiest country in the region, it also showed the most improvement overall, possibly due to its increased access to basic services. Notably though, the pandemic caused a sharp economic contraction in real GDP by 23.9% year-over-year in Q1’2021.
Current Mood: Unhappy (4.5)
In July 2020, the island nation of Mauritius joined Seychelles to become the second high-income country in Africa, helping cement its status as the happiest in the region.
Zambia, the most improved African country, has one of the world’s youngest populations by median age—which presents long-term opportunities for labor force participation.
On the flip side, agriculturally-reliant Benin struggles with high poverty, with close to 40% of the population living below $1.90 per day.
Zimbabwe, the unhappiest country, has been through not just natural disasters but financial disasters too. It experienced hyperinflation of 786% in May 2020, accompanied by an equally sharp rise in food prices.
Although each country has been uniquely impacted by the pandemic, it’s clear that on the whole, happiness levels take into account so much more. How will future rankings look like in a post-pandemic world?
Explainer: The Basics of DNA and Genetic Systems
All living things have a genetic system made up of DNA. This graphic explores the basics of DNA composition and structure.
Explainer: The Basics of DNA and Genetic Systems
While there is great diversity among living things, we all have one thing in common—we all rely on a genetic system made up of DNA and/or RNA.
But how do genetic systems work, and to what extent do they vary across species?
This graphic by Anne-Lise Paris explores the basics of DNA and genetic systems, including how they’re structured, and how they differ across species.
Composition of Genetic Systems: DNA and RNA
A genetic system is essentially a set of instructions that dictate our genetic makeup—what we look like and how we interact with our environment.
This set of instructions is stored in nucleic acids, the two main types being deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA).
DNA is made up of four molecules, known as nucleotides: Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Cytosine ( C), and Guanine (G). These nucleotides are grouped in sets of two, which are called base pairs.
Size of Genomes Across Different Organisms
Human DNA is made up of approximately 3.2 billion base pairs that are tightly wound up and stored in our cells. If you were to unwind and measure the DNA stored in a single human cell, it would be about 2 meters (6.5 feet) long!
This lengthy DNA is stored in pairs of chromosomes. A full collection of chromosomes, or an entire set of genetic information, is referred to as a genome.
Genomes vary in size, depending on the organism. Here is a look at 24 different species and the size of their genomes, from animals and plants to bacteria and viruses:
|Organism||Kingdom||Size of genomes (number of base pairs)|
|Hepatitis D virus||Virus||1,700|
The Marbled Lungfish has the largest known animal genome. Its genome is made up of 130 billion base pairs, which is about 126.8 billion more than the average human genome.
Comparatively, small viruses and bacteria have fewer base pairs. The Hepatitis D virus has only 1,700 base pairs, while E. coli bacteria has 4.6 million. Interestingly, research has not found a link between the size of a species’ genome and the organism’s size or complexity.
In fact, there are still a ton of unanswered questions in the field of genome research. Why do some species have small genomes? Why do some have a ton of redundant DNA? These are still questions being investigated by scientists today.
Mapped: Which Countries Still Have a Monarchy?
Beyond the 15 nations under the British monarchy, 28 other countries still have a ruling monarch. Here’s a look at the world’s monarchies.
Mapped: Which Countries Still Have a Monarchy?
In the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the question of monarchy is brought sharply into focus.
However, a surprising number of countries have ruling monarchs, and in this visual we break down the kinds of royal leadership across the 43 countries that still have them.
Types of Monarchies
A monarch in the simplest sense is a country’s king, queen, emir, or sultan, and so on. But before diving in, it’s important to break down the distinctions between the types of monarchies that exist today. Generally, there are four kinds:
① Constitutional Monarchy
The monarch divides power with a constitutionally founded government. In this situation, the monarch, while having ceremonial duties and certain responsibilities, does not have any political power. For example, the UK’s monarch must sign all laws to make them official, but has no power to change or reject new laws.
Here are some examples of countries with constitutional monarchies:
🇬🇧 United Kingdom
② Absolute Monarchy
The monarch has full and absolute political power. They can amend, reject, or create laws, represent the country’s interests abroad, appoint political leaders, and so on.
Here are some examples of countries with absolute monarchies:
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia
🇻🇦 Vatican City
③ Federal Monarchy
The monarch serves an overall figurehead of the federation of states which have their own governments, or even monarchies, ruling them.
Here are some examples of countries with federal monarchies:
Malaysia is a unique form of federal monarchy. Every five years, each state’s royal leaders choose amongst themselves who will be the monarch, or the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, of Malaysia and the respective states. Furthermore, the monarchy is also constitutional, allowing a democratically elected body to govern.
④ Mixed Monarchy
This is a situation wherein an absolute monarch may divide powers in distinct ways specific to the country.
Here are some examples of countries with mixed monarchies:
Interestingly, Liechtenstein is the only European monarchy that still practises strict agnatic primogeniture. Under agnatic primogeniture, the degree of kinship is determined by tracing descent from the nearest common ancestor through male ancestors.
Kings, Queens, Emperors, and Sultans Around the Globe
Now let’s break down the different monarchies country by country:
|Country||Type of Monarchy||Title of Head of State||Monarch||Title of Head of Government|
|🇦🇩 Andorra||Constitutional||Co-Princes||Joan-Enric Vives, Emmanuel Macron||Prime Minister|
|🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇦🇺 Australia||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇧🇭 Bahrain||Mixed||King||Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa||Prime Minister|
|🇧🇪 Belgium||Constitutional||King||Philippe||Prime Minister|
|🇧🇿 Belize||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇧🇹 Bhutan||Constitutional||King||Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck||Prime Minister|
|🇧🇳 Brunei Darussalam||Absolute||Sultan||Hassanal Bolkiah||Sultan|
|🇰🇭 Cambodia||Constitutional||King||Norodom Sihamoni||Prime Minister|
|🇨🇦 Canada||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇩🇰 Denmark||Constitutional||Queen||Margrethe II||Prime Minister|
|🇸🇿 Eswatini||Absolute||King||Mswati III||Prime Minister|
|🇬🇩 Grenada||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇯🇲 Jamaica||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇯🇵 Japan||Constitutional||Emperor||Naruhito||Prime Minister|
|🇯🇴 Jordan||Mixed||King||Abdullah II||Prime Minister|
|🇰🇼 Kuwait||Mixed||Emir||Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah||Prime Minister|
|🇱🇸 Lesotho||Constitutional||King||Letsie III||Prime Minister|
|🇱🇮 Liechtenstein||Mixed||Sovereign Prince||Hans-Adam II||Prime Minister|
|🇱🇺 Luxembourg||Constitutional||Grand Duke||Henri||Prime Minister|
|🇲🇾 Malaysia||Constitutional & Federal||Yang di-Pertuan Agong||Abdullah||Prime Minister|
|🇲🇨 Monaco||Mixed||Sovereign Prince||Albert II||Minister of State|
|🇲🇦 Morocco||Mixed||King||Mohammed VI||Prime Minister|
|🇳🇱 Netherlands||Constitutional||King||Willem-Alexander||Prime Minister|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇳🇴 Norway||Constitutional||King||Harald V||Prime Minister|
|🇴🇲 Oman||Absolute||Sultan||Haitham bin Tarik||Sultan|
|🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇶🇦 Qatar||Mixed||Emir||Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani||Prime Minister|
|🇰🇳 Saint Kitts and Nevis||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇱🇨 Saint Lucia||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇻🇨 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||Absolute||King||Salman||Prime Minister|
|🇸🇧 Solomon Islands||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇪🇸 Spain||Constitutional||King||Felipe VI||President of the Government|
|🇸🇪 Sweden||Constitutional||King||Carl XVI Gustaf||Prime Minister|
|🇹🇭 Thailand||Constitutional||King||Rama X||Prime Minister|
|🇧🇸 The Bahamas||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇹🇴 Tonga||Constitutional||King||Tupou VI||Prime Minister|
|🇹🇻 Tuvalu||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇦🇪 UAE||Federal||President||Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan||Prime Minister|
|🇬🇧 UK||Constitutional||King||Charles III||Prime Minister|
|🇻🇦 Vatican City||Absolute||Pope||Francis||President of the Pontifical Commission|
Constitutional monarchies are undoubtedly the most popular form of royal leadership in the modern era, making up close to 70% of all monarchies. This situation allows for democratically elected governments to rule the country, while the monarch performs ceremonial duties.
Most monarchs are hereditary, inheriting their position by luck of their birth, but interestingly, French president, Emmanuel Macron, technically serves as a Co-Prince of Andorra.
Another unique case is the Vatican’s Pope Francis, who has absolute power in the small independent city—he gained his role thanks to an election process known as a papal conclave.
The Role of Monarchies
One of the most notable and famous ruling monarchies is the United Kingdom’s House of Windsor—also known as Queen Elizabeth II’s family. King Charles III has now ascended to the country’s throne, making him head of state in 15 nations total, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Many see the benefit in having a stable and consistent form of tradition and decorum at the country’s head of state.
“The Crown is an integral part of the institution of Parliament. The Queen [now King] plays a constitutional role in opening and dissolving Parliament and approving Bills before they become law.” – British Parliament
Japan’s royal family has been a prime example of stability, having reigned in the country for more than 2,600 years under the same hereditary line.
Critiques and the Future of Monarchy
Some claim, however, that there is no function of monarchy in the modern day, and complaints of monarchies’ immense wealth and power are rampant.
For example, according to the Dutch government, King Willem-Alexander’s budget for 2022, funded by the state and thus, taxpayers, comes out to more than €48 million.
Beyond tax dollars, with absolute monarchies there is typically a lack of political freedoms and certain rights. Saudi Arabia, for example, has no national elections. Rather its king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, stays in power for life, appoints the cabinet himself, and passes laws by royal decree.
The death of Queen Elizabeth, though, may bring about change though for many of the world’s royally-governed. Since Barbados’ removal of her as head of state in 2021, six other Caribbean nations have expressed the desire to do the same, namely:
🇧🇸 The Bahamas
🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda
🇰🇳 St. Kitts and Nevis
The future of monarchy in the 21st century is certainly not a guarantee.
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