10 happiest countries in the world are among the least religious

The world's happiest countries are also among the least religious, according to a new UN report out today.

Finland pips Norway as the happiest nation on earth, the 2018 World Happiness Report revealed, as African countries such as Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Sudan and the Central African Republic all report lower happiness levels than Syria.


The results are pooled from Gallup World Poll surveys from 2015-2017 and are based on six key variables which the report says have been found to support well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.

The chart, which for the first time measured the happiness of immigrants in each country, is striking in that the happiest 10 countries in the world are also among the least religious.

Equally the most unhappy countries in the world are also among the most religious, when you map the data from the UN's report onto results from WIN/Gallup International polls in 2008, 2009 and 2015. The study asked participants: 'is religion important in your daily life?'

The 10 happiest countries from the 2018 report are below, with the percentage of the population who say religion is important to them in brackets, if the data is available.

  1. Finland (28 per cent)
  2. Norway (21 per cent)
  3. Denmark (19 per cent)
  4. Iceland (N/A)
  5. Switzerland (41 per cent)
  6. Netherlands (33 per cent)
  7. Canada (42 per cent)
  8. New Zealand (33 per cent)
  9. Sweden (17 per cent)
  10. Australia (55 per cent)

When compared with the world's unhappiest countries it is clear they tend to come from poorer countries with lower average incomes and less access to social support and a lower life expectancy. They also tend to say religion is more important in their daily life.

147. Malawi (96 per cent)
148. Haiti (75 per cent)
149. Liberia (94 per cent)
150. Syria (89 per cent)
151. Rwanda (95 per cent)
152. Yemen (99 per cent)
153. Tanzania (89 per cent)
154. South Sudan (93 per cent)
155. Central African Republic (94 per cent)
156. Burundi (98 per cent)

The results come after figures published as part of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 'well-being' programme in 2016 suggested that religion can make people happier.

People in Britain who say they have no religious affiliation report lower levels of happiness, life satisfaction and self-worth than those who do and yet, conversely, non-religious Britons also report lower levels of anxiety than adherents to the main faiths.

However this research only questioned those in the UK and the research from the world happiness index focused on its key indicators of income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.

It seemed to suggest that more material factors played a bigger factor that religious adherence to any religion

'Finland has vaulted from fifth place to the top of the rankings this year,' said the report's authors, although they noted that the other three Nordic countries (plus Switzerland) have almost interchangeable scores.

'That Finland is the top scorer is remarkable,' said Meik Wiking of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark. 'GDP per capita in Finland is lower than its neighbouring Nordic countries and is much lower than that of the US. The Finns are good at converting wealth into wellbeing.

'In the Nordic countries in general, we pay some of the highest taxes in the world, but there is wide public support for that because people see them as investments in quality of life for all. Free healthcare and university education goes a long way when it comes to happiness.'