The World Happiness Report is now in its third edition, and measures well-being in order to guide public policy. According to the report, Switzerland is the happiest country in the world, followed by Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden. You will notice that each of the top 8 countries are situated in the global north, writes Erin Brodwin for Business Insider.

happiest countries

World’s happiest countries: United States 15th happiest, United Kingdom 21st

The U.S. rose two places in this edition to 15th, behind Mexico and Austria, while the United Kingdom is languishing in 21st place. Before we descend into an argument what exactly happiness is, here is a brief summary of the science behind the report.

Decades of neuroscientific and psychological research have shown that a happy brain relies on staying positive, recovering from negative feelings, caring about friends and family and allowing ourselves to fully experience emotions.

How to increase happiness around the world

A happy person is more likely to live a longer, healthier and more productive life, according to the report. In order to boost happiness, scientists claim that people should take part in meditation and mindfulness programs, which have been shown to change the structure of areas of the brain linked to memory, perspective and self-awareness. Other studies have shown that experiencing a sense of awe can help humans feel happier.

“These findings highlight the view that happiness and well-being are best regarded as skills that can be enhanced through training,” the researchers write.

It seems that residents of Togo and Burundi have a lot of work to do if they are to improve their happiness, as they are the least happy countries on the planet. Syria is the third-least happy, with the effects of the ongoing conflict likely playing a part. Benin, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Chad round out the list of the 10 least happy countries in the world, with the vast majority situated in Africa.

Conflict and natural disasters appear to play a part in the reported levels of happiness of citizens around the world, with the stable, developed economies of northern Europe in stark contrast to the developing nations of Africa.