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Why Germany has fallen behind on happiness

March 20, 2024

Despite stable levels of well-being, Germany has fallen to 24th place in the World Happiness Report, with youth ranking even lower. Factors such as the pandemic and geopolitical tensions have contributed to this shift.

young man sitting at laptop crying
In Germany, young people are less happy than the elderlyImage: Khosrow Rajab Kordi/Zoonar/picture alliance

While Finland again tops the ranking in the annual "World Happiness Report, "Germany has fallen behind.

In Germany, people are not unhappier than in previous years, but people elsewhere have surpassed them. That puts Germany at 24th — and only 47th among people under the age of 30. A similar trend is seen in the United States, which overall ranks 23rd. That's the first time the US has fallen out of the top 20 due to significant unhappiness among younger people.

Costa Rica and Kuwait have moved into the top 10, which no longer include any of the largest countries. Only the Netherlands and Australia are the only countries in the top 10 that have populations over 15 million.

The report was compiled on behalf of the United Nations and based on data from Gallup, the leading American polling organization. It asked people in 143 countries and territories to evaluate their lives on a scale from zero to 10, taking into account factors such as GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity and corruption.

Why are Germans unhappy?

This year's report is based on data from 2021 to 2023, which covers some of the pandemic years and Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

"Perhaps the German public reacts much more sensitively to the outbreak of war than other populations due to our history," said Hilke Brockmann, a social scientist at Constructor University Bremen, in northern Germany. "Perhaps this also results in this German angst," she added.

Researchers in Germany who track public mood had already noted a deviation between socioeconomic situation and personal sense of well-being. Brockmann attributes the country's relatively lackluster ranking to macro policies. 

"You have to take into account that the German state is not particularly generous. The austerity policy pursued in Germany is certainly not particularly conducive to happiness," she told DW. "The malfunctioning of public infrastructure doesn't necessarily contribute to happiness either." 

Happiness: Finland reigns again as world's happiest nation

Compare that to Scandinavian and Nordic countries, she said, where the social safety net is wider and thicker and so "creates a kind of basic solidarity that may be somewhat lacking in conservative welfare states like Germany."

The young and the old: Who's happier?

This year, the report also took age into consideration. In Germany, Norway, Sweden, France, the United Kingdom and Spain, the old are now significantly happier than the young, while Portugal and Greece show the reverse pattern.

The results upend the long-held belief that younger people are happier and that their happiness wears off later in life as they realize that expectations go unfulfilled later on.

Sociologist Brockmann notes that strong partnerships add to one's happiness and are more often established as one gets older.

The World Happiness Report has come out every year since 2012, when the UN adopted Bhutan's emphasis on public happiness and created the International Day of Happiness on March 20.

This article was originally written in German.

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Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau