What could the UK learn from the happiest countries in the world?

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The World Happiness Report has named Finland the happiest nation in the world in 2023 – it’s the sixth consecutive year the country has won the title. Read on to find out what the UK could learn from some of the happiest countries.

The research polls around 1,000 people from each country across several key areas to evaluate how happy citizens are. It also reviews economic and social data.

One interesting finding from the report is that life evaluations were “remarkably resilient” during the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, positive emotions, such as laughter and interest, were more than twice as frequent during the pandemic as negative emotions, like worry and anger.

While the UK has fallen in the ranking for four consecutive years, it does make it into the top 20 at number 19. But, with room for improvement, what could Brits learn from some of the countries that made it to the top 10?

Finland: Spend more time in nature

Studies suggest that spending time in nature can boost physical and mental health. In fact, a scientific study from 2019 suggests that spending 120 minutes each week in nature could improve your overall wellbeing. Could it be the secret to happiness among Finns?

Finland is well known for its incredible landscape, and it’s something citizens often take advantage of. The country has more than 40 national parks, all of which are free to enter. With easy accessibility to beautiful lakes and forests, even from urban areas, nature is very much a part of life in Finland.

The good news is that the UK has incredible national parks and green spaces that are free to visit too. Visiting natural spaces is already important for many people, but a survey suggests Brits could do more to embrace nature.

According to the government, almost 3 in 10 adults haven’t visited a natural or green space in a 14-day period. This is even though more than 9 in 10 people agree nature and spending time outdoors was good for both their physical and mental health.

Israel: Create a sense of community

Israel is just one of two countries in the top 10 that isn’t in Europe. This year, it made it to spot number four in the World Happiness Report.

The country scored well across almost all criteria the report assesses, but there was one outlier that it does very well – social support. Family and community connections are incredibly important in Israel, which can help create a sense of belonging and mean people feel at ease.

The sense of community is a part of everyday life in a way that isn’t seen as frequently in many Western countries today. Whole communities will often come together to celebrate festivals, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and more.

According to the NHS, 22% of people in England report feeling lonely at least some of the time. Those that are suffering from poor health are more than three times as likely to report feeling lonely. Encouraging a greater sense of community could improve happiness and overall wellbeing.

Switzerland: Prioritise health

While Switzerland now holds the number eight spot in the happiness rankings, it has previously been named number one. One of the reasons for the country’s happiness is that health is a priority.

The country has one of the highest life expectancies in Europe and one of the lowest obesity rates. A healthy diet and physical activity are encouraged from a young age. Sports are common in schools and often mandatory. It’s not unusual to see children skiing in the winter and swimming in lakes during the warmer months, and this carries over to adulthood.

Making health a priority in daily activities can help people get more out of life and reduce the risk of poor health affecting happiness.

In 2021, Imperial College London reported that a “substantial number” of English communities experienced a decline in life expectancy. Although the pandemic led to the life expectancy of the UK falling for the first time in 40 years, the research suggests it was already declining before Covid-19 had an effect.

New Zealand: Encourage a positive work-life balance

Just making it into the top 10, New Zealand’s strong commitment to creating a positive work-life balance is likely to have played a role in the country’s happiness.

In fact, the New Zealand government reports that almost 7 in 10 professionals in the country state that work-life balance is their top priority when seeking a new role.

There are policies in place in New Zealand to promote flexible working arrangements and create family-friendly working environments. This focus helps employees balance work with other important aspects of their life, from spending time with their children to having the freedom to indulge hobbies, or simply time to relax.

While embracing flexible working in the UK has improved since the pandemic, there may still be room for improvement that could boost happiness among workers. Creating a work-life balance is becoming increasingly important for Brits. A survey suggests two-thirds of employees would be willing to take a pay cut for a better work-life balance.

The demand from workers for greater flexibility could encourage a change that helps the UK become happier.

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