Kim Painter, Special for USA TODAY
Something to smile about? Americans are not the happiest people on earth, but we do rank a respectable No. 17, among 156 countries evaluated for a new United Nations report.
The second annual World Happiness Report, released Monday, finds the highest levels of happiness in Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden, all in northern Europe. The lowest ranked were Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Benin and Togo, all in Africa.
The report, from the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, is based on how people around the world rate their overall satisfaction with life, not just on how they feel at any moment. It shows that while economic conditions matter, factors such as life expectancy, freedom and social support do, too. The report says human happiness should be a more important part of how we measure nation-by-nation progress.
"There is now a rising worldwide demand that policy be more closely aligned with what really matters to people, as they themselves characterize their well-being," report co-editor Jeffrey Sachs said in a statement. Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, New York.
And the world may be getting just a little happier: Data for the new report, collected between 2010 and 2012, showed overall increases in happiness from the first round, collected between 2005 and 2011. Happiness was up most in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, but down in countries struck by economic upheaval (Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain) or political convulsions (Egypt).
Happiness in the United States fell slightly, but Americans remained happier than people in the United Kingdom (ranked 22nd), France (25th) or Japan (43rd). Countries ranked higher than the USA include Canada (6th), Costa Rica (12th) and Mexico (16th).