Tips & News

These Are Officially the Happiest Countries in the World in 2021

The United Nations World Happiness Report remains dominated by Nordic countries. But there’s a new twist this year, with East Asian nations getting a shout-out for Covid-times quality of life.

By Diana Hubbell

Apr 16, 2021

THE UNITED NATIONS WORLD HAPPINESS REPORT for 2021 is out and, once again, Nordic nations have landed at the top of the list. For the fourth consecutive year, Finland took the top place, followed by Iceland and Denmark. All three boast robust education and healthcare systems, excellent access to green spaces, and high standards of living with relatively low economic inequality.

“Sustainable happiness is our superpower, and it means we tend to take life as it comes – a trait that is helping us through these challenging times,” said Heli Jimenez, Senior Director, International Marketing at Business Finland in a press statement.

While European nations occupy nine out of the top 10 spots, Asia-Pacific fared especially well in one crucial category: its handling of the pandemic. In 2020, COVID-19 upended normal life in virtually every country. For countries that failed to control the initial outbreaks, that meant months of stringent lockdowns and devastating economic consequences. By acting quickly and decisively, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other countries throughout the region managed to spare their citizens the worst of the impact.

“The East Asian experience shows that stringent government policies not only control Covid-19 effectively, but also buffer the negative impact of daily infections on people’s happiness,” said Shun Wang, Professor, KDI School of Public Policy and Management and one of the editors of the report in a statement.

According to the report, “The main sources of the successes of East Asia, and more broadly the Asia-Pacific, were also discernible at an early stage. The Asia-Pacific countries, in contrast with the North Atlantic, were actively engaged in a wide range of intensive Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs), including tight border controls; quarantining of arriving passengers; high rates of face-mask use; physical distancing; and public health surveillance systems engaged in widespread testing, contact tracing, and quarantining (or home isolation) of infected individuals.”

Much of Asia-Pacific’s success came down to the collective public attitude and the shadow of past epidemics, especially SARS, in the region. Citizens in many Asian countries enthusiastically embraced mask wearing and social distancing measures, helping to flatten the curve in the first wave. For example, even though the pandemic originated in mainland China, by the end of 2020, the cumulative number of infections in Hong Kong and Taiwan were less than 9,000 and 799 respectively. Australia and New Zealand have also done impressively well at containing the novel coronavirus.

What this means is that the region as a whole has been able to begin to rebound and recover faster than much of the rest of the world. For residents of cities like Taipei or Saigon, life is already largely back to normal, complete with concerts, traditional festivals and all manner of cultural events.

This is good news for anyone in Asia-Pacific who loves to travel—an important component of happiness and well-being for a great many people—as well as for anyone who works in Asia-Pacific’s booming hospitality industry. Whether you’ve been missing the beaches of Vietnam, the galleries of Hong Kong, or the vibrant nightlife and dining of Singapore, there’s a strong chance you’ll be able to experience it again soon.

Many Asian nations have already started to carefully reintroduce international travel, while others are planning to do so in the coming months. Thailand plans to welcome vaccinated travelers to quarantine-free stays on its most popular island by July 1, with a possible countrywide reopening tentatively slated for October.

Meanwhile, Taiwan, which has practically eliminated the virus from the island and kept its death count down to a mere 10, recently opened a travel bubble with the island nation of Palau. If the program proves a success, the bubble will eventually be expanded to include other countries. Hong Kong is also cautiously gearing up to reopen its tourism sector to selected nations.

As difficult as it may be to feel optimistic after the hardship of 2020, there’s a very real cause for hope on the near horizon. This version of the World Happiness Report is as much a testament to human resilience and resourcefulness as anything. It is impossible to know exactly what the coming months will bring, but the outlook for travel and for mental health in general in Asia-Pacific is looking brighter.

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