According to a report published Wednesday, Denmark is the best place in the world to be happy after overtaking Switzerland.

The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University report urges countries to tackle inequality and care for the environment regardless of their wealth. Syria, Afghanistan and eight sub-Saharan countries were the 10 least happy places to live, writes Philip Pullella for Reuters.

Denmark flag

Happy or not? Denmark tops while the United States ranks 13th in global happiness report

Alongside Denmark and Switzerland, the top 10 featured Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden. The bottom 10 were Madagascar, Tanzania, Liberia, Guinea, Rwanda, Benin, Afghanistan, Togo, Syria and Burundi.

By way of comparison the United States ranked 13th, the United Kingdom 23rd, France 32nd and Italy 50th.

“There is a very strong message for my country, the United States, which is very rich, has gotten a lot richer over the last 50 years, but has gotten no happier,” said Professor Jeffrey Sachs, head of the SDSN and special advisor to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

It is impossible to scientifically measure happiness in particular countries, but “we can understand why and do something about it,” said Sachs, one of the report’s authors.

Economic growth not the only goal for modern societies

“The message for the United States is clear. For a society that just chases money, we are chasing the wrong things. Our social fabric is deteriorating, social trust is deteriorating, faith in government is deteriorating,” he said.

The fourth edition of the report aims to “survey the scientific underpinnings of measuring and understanding subjective well-being.” It ranks 157 countries for happiness using per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and healthy years of life expectancy, among other factors.

“When countries single-mindedly pursue individual objectives, such as economic development to the neglect of social and environmental objectives, the results can be highly adverse for human wellbeing, even dangerous for survival,” it said. “Many countries in recent years have achieved economic growth at the cost of sharply rising inequality, entrenched social exclusion, and grave damage to the natural environment.”

In 2012 the first report was issued o support a United Nations meeting on happiness and well-being. Bhutan, Ecuador, Scotland, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela have Ministers of Happiness whose job it is to make being happy a public policy goal.

Ireland, Iceland and Japan were able to maintain happiness despite shocks from the economic crisis and the 2011 earthquake. Sachs also used Costa Rica, which ranked 14th, as an example of a happy society despite a relative lack of economic power.