Switzerland, a country that ranks high on several metrics of national performance, including life expectancy, has now added another feather to its cap. According to the third World Happiness Report compiled by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), the European nation ranks as the world’s happiest nation -- a distinction previously held by Denmark. 

The report, compiled by a group of international academics, ranks countries on a series of factors, including GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, social support systems and the perceived degree of corruption. These criteria are either nationally determined or are based on information gathered through the Gallup World Poll, which began in 2005. Five of the 10 happiest countries in the world, according to the report, are from the Nordic region. 

“Three-quarters of the differences among countries, and also among regions, is accounted for by differences in six key variables -- GDP per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, social support, trust, perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity,” the report said. “Differences in social support, incomes, and healthy life expectancy are the three most important factors.”

According to the report, of the top 10 nations, the first five are Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada. The U.S. failed to make it to the top 10 and was ranked 15th.

geography of happiness The "Geography of Happiness": A map showing the geographic distribution of happiness on a scale of 0 to 10 -- with the worst possible life as a 0 and the best possible life as a 10. Photo: World Happiness Report 2015

The bottom five are mostly sub-Saharan African nations -- Rwanda, Benin, Burundi and Togo -- and Syria, where a protracted civil war and insurgency led by militants of the Islamic State group have left hundreds of thousands dead and millions homeless. Eight of the bottom 10 countries are in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Average life evaluations in the top 10 countries are more than twice as high as in the bottom 10,” the report said. “GDP per capita is 25 times higher in the top 10 than in the bottom 10 countries.”

In recent years, the U.N. has increasingly sought to use “Gross National Happiness” -- a term first used by Bhutan in the 1970s -- as a measure of social progress. In 2012, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution proclaiming March 20 as the “International Day of Happiness.”

“A rapidly increasing number of national and local governments are using happiness data and research in their search for policies that could enable people to live better lives,” the report said. “Governments are measuring subjective well-being, and using well-being research as a guide to the design of public spaces and the delivery of public services.”