Europeans feel the happiest and most respected in the world. Will the threat of an aging population change everything?



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For years, its countries have ranked among the highest in many lifestyle metrics. In 2024 (and six years prior to that), Finland has held the crown as world’s happiest countries, according to the World Happiness Report. Its other European peers followed—such as Denmark, Iceland and The Netherlands. 

But if happiness is too simplistic, there are other factors where Europe tops the charts.  European nations have also passed with flying colors in measures of wellbeing, which look at factors like social support, life expectancy and generosity. 

There’s more—Europeans felt respected and well-rested at varying degrees, pointing to an overall higher living standards and stronger social networks around people, according to Gallup’s Global Emotions Report. 

That scale varied from country to country—for instance, 97% of Portuguese respondents said they felt respected, while that figure dropped to 58% in Romania. Meanwhile, 75% of those in Ireland felt well-rested compared to just 53% in Greece.  

On the flip-side, relatively fewer European countries clocked in negative emotions like anger and pain. 

The research compiled 146,000 interviews among people aged 15 years and older across the world. The survey asked respondents questions on when they smiled, were rested, felt stressed or sad, and more, to gauge whether their overall sentiment is positive or negative.  

Happiness can be complicated to unpack, and is often based on self-evaluation rather than quantitative metrics. Still, European countries have managed to set an example for the rest of the world. 

Europe still faces many problems seen across the developed world. Youth unemployment, sluggish economic growth and macroeconomic volatilities have impacted some regions and demographics more than others. An aging population is yet another trend clouding Europe—one that could impede how “happy” the region continues to be.

Age and the ‘happily ever after’

The correlation between age and happiness could play out differently depending on who you ask. 

In affluent economies like Norway and Sweden, for instance, older generations are much happier than the younger one. But if you look at young people in Portugal and Greece, they are happier than their older counterparts. Lithuania ranked as the happiest country in the world for the under-30s. 

“The relationship between age and happiness is more nuanced than previously understood,”  Ilana Ron Levey, Gallup’s managing director, told Fortune earlier this year. 

North America is one of the regions where younger people are unhappier than seniors, with a loneliness epidemic affecting young Americans.  

Finland bucks the trend, the country has a rapidly aging population while continuing to rank as the happiest in the world. Social trust and freedom play an important role, as does a sense of community.

“Both social support and loneliness affect happiness, with social support usually having the larger effect,” WHR’s 2024 report said. “Social interactions add to happiness, with their effects flowing through increases in social support and reductions in loneliness.”

With a youth mental health crisis at large, perhaps countries—whether they have aging economies or not—should aim to build strong-knit communities as a way to keep its people happy.  

For now, if there’s one source of solace, it’s that the world is “in a better place emotionally than it was at the height of the pandemic,” Gallup said in its report. 

“Globally, positive emotions returned to their pre-pandemic levels in 2023,” the group found.

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