Mapped: Happiness Levels Around the World in 2021
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Mapped: Global Happiness Levels in 2021

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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
  • Generosity
  • 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.

North America

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.

most-and-least-happy-countries-2021-North-America

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.

South America

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.

most-and-least-happy-countries-2021-South-America

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.

Europe

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.

most-and-least-happy-countries-2021-Europe

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.

most-and-least-happy-countries-2021-Middle-East

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.

most-and-least-happy-countries-2021-East-Asia-and-Oceania

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.

Africa

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.

most-and-least-happy-countries-2021-Africa

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?

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Green

Mapped: Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface

This detailed map looks at where humans have (and haven’t) modified Earth’s terrestrial environment. See human impact in incredible detail.

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human impact on earths surface

Mapped: Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface

With human population on Earth approaching 8 billion (we’ll likely hit that milestone in 2023), our impact on the planet is becoming harder to ignore with each passing year.

Our cities, infrastructure, agriculture, and pollution are all forms of stress we place on the natural world. This map, by David M. Theobald et al., shows just how much of the planet we’ve now modified. The researchers estimate that 14.6% or 18.5 million km² of land area has been modified – an area greater than Russia.

Defining Human Impact

Human impact on the Earth’s surface can take a number of different forms, and researchers took a nuanced approach to classifying the “modifications” we’ve made. In the end, 10 main stressors were used to create this map:

  1. Built-Up Areas: All of our cities and towns
  2. Agriculture: Areas devoted to crops and pastures
  3. Energy and extractive resources: Primarily locations where oil and gas are extracted
  4. Mines and quarries: Other ground-based natural resource extraction, excluding oil and gas
  5. Power plants: Areas where energy is produced – both renewable and non-renewable
  6. Transportation and service corridors: Primarily roads and railways
  7. Logging: This measures commodity-based forest loss (excludes factors like wildfire and urbanization)
  8. Human intrusion: Typically areas adjacent to population centers and roads that humans access
  9. Natural systems modification: Primarily modifications to water flow, including reservoir creation
  10. Pollution: Phenomenon such as acid rain and fog caused by air pollution

The classification descriptions above are simplified. See the methodology for full descriptions and calculations.

A Closer Look at Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface

To help better understand the level of impact humans can have on the planet, we’ll take a closer look three regions, and see how the situation on the ground relates to these maps.

Land Use Contrasts: Egypt

Almost all of Egypt’s population lives along the Nile and its delta, making it an interesting place to examine land use and human impact.

egypt land use impact zone

The towns and high intensity agricultural land following the river stand out clearly on the human modification map, while the nearby desert shows much less impact.

Intensive Modification: Netherlands

The Netherlands has some of the heavily modified landscapes on Earth, so the way it looks on this map will come as no surprise.

netherlands land use impact zone

The area shown above, Rotterdam’s distinctive port and surround area, renders almost entirely in colors at the top of the human modification scale.

Resource Extraction: West Virginia

It isn’t just cities and towns that show up clearly on this map, it’s also the areas we extract our raw materials from as well. This mountainous region of West Virginia, in the United States, offers a very clear visual example.

west virginia land use impact zone

The mountaintop removal method of mining—which involves blasting mountains in order to retrieve seams of bituminous coal—is common in this region, and mine sites show up clearly in the map.

You can explore the interactive version of this map yourself to view any area on the globe. What surprises you about these patterns of human impact?

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Politics

Interactive Map: Tracking Global Hunger and Food Insecurity

Every day, hunger affects more than 700 million people. This live map from the UN highlights where hunger is hitting hardest around the world.

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The World Hunger Map

Interactive Map: Tracking Global Hunger and Food Insecurity

Hunger is still one the biggest—and most solvable—problems in the world.

Every day, more than 700 million people (8.8% of the world’s population) go to bed on an empty stomach, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

The WFP’s HungerMap LIVE displayed here tracks core indicators of acute hunger like household food consumption, livelihoods, child nutritional status, mortality, and access to clean water in order to rank countries.

The World Hunger Map

After sitting closer to 600 million from 2014 to 2019, the number of people in the world affected by hunger increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, 155 million people (2% of the world’s population) experienced acute hunger, requiring urgent assistance.

The Fight to Feed the World

The problem of global hunger isn’t new, and attempts to solve it have making headlines for decades.

On July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium in London, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially opened Live Aid, a worldwide rock concert organized to raise money for the relief of famine-stricken Africans.

The event was followed by similar concerts at other arenas around the world, globally linked by satellite to more than a billion viewers in 110 nations, raising more than $125 million ($309 million in today’s dollars) in famine relief for Africa.

But 35+ years later, the continent still struggles. According to the UN, from 12 countries with the highest prevalence of insufficient food consumption in the world, nine are in Africa.

Country % Population Affected by HungerPopulation (millions)Region
Afghanistan 🇦🇫93%40.4Asia
Somalia 🇸🇴68%12.3Africa
Burkina Faso 🇧🇫61%19.8Africa
South Sudan 🇸🇸60%11.0Africa
Mali 🇲🇱60%19.1Africa
Sierra Leone 🇸🇱55%8.2Africa
Syria 🇸🇾55%18.0Middle East
Niger 🇳🇪55%22.4Africa
Lesotho 🇱🇸50%2.1Africa
Guinea 🇬🇳48%12.2Africa
Benin 🇧🇯47%11.5Africa
Yemen 🇾🇪44%30.0Middle East

Approximately 30 million people in Africa face the effects of severe food insecurity, including malnutrition, starvation, and poverty.

Wasted Leftovers

Although many of the reasons for the food crisis around the globe involve conflicts or environmental challenges, one of the big contributors is food waste.

According to the United Nations, one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tons of wasted food per year, worth approximately $1 trillion.

All the food produced but never eaten would be sufficient to feed two billion people. That’s more than twice the number of undernourished people across the globe. Consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa each year.

Solving Global Hunger

While many people may not be “hungry” in the sense that they are suffering physical discomfort, they may still be food insecure, lacking regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development.

Estimates of how much money it would take to end world hunger range from $7 billion to $265 billion per year.

But to tackle the problem, investments must be utilized in the right places. Specialists say that governments and organizations need to provide food and humanitarian relief to the most at-risk regions, increase agricultural productivity, and invest in more efficient supply chains.

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