SWITZERLAND is the happiest country in the world, according to a global league table unveiled in New York.
Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada filled the next four places, with Britain way down in 21st, pipped by Belgium and the United Arab Emirates.
Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia made up the rest of the top ten, meaning small or medium-sized countries in Western Europe filled seven of the first ten places.
The 2015 World Happiness Report is the third annual survey seeking to quantify happiness as a means of influencing government policy. The United Nations published the first study in 2012.
Academics identified the variables as real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption and generosity.
Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York and one of the editors, said the top 13 countries were the same for a second year running, although their order had shifted.
They combined affluence with strong social support, and relatively honest and accountable governments, he said.
“Countries below that top group fall short, either in income or in social support or in both,” Mr Sachs said.
The US trails in 15th place, behind Israel and Mexico, with France ranked number 29, behind Germany in 26th place.
Afghanistan and war-torn Syria joined eight sub-Saharan countries in Africa – Togo, Burundi, Benin, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Chad – as the ten least happy of 158 countries.
Despite the conflict raging in Iraq, that country was ranked 112th, ahead of South Africa, India, Kenya and Bulgaria.
The 166-page report was edited by Mr Sachs, John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia in Canada and Richard Layard from the London School of Economics.
“One of our very strong recommendations is that we should be using measurements of happiness … to help guide the world during this period of the new sustainable development goals,” Mr Sachs said.
The report would be distributed at the UN and closely read by governments around the world, he said.
“We want this to have an impact, to put it straightforwardly, on the deliberations on sustainable development because we think this really matters,” he said.
Besides money, the report emphasised fairness, honesty, trust and good health as determinants, saying economic crises or natural disasters themselves did not necessarily crush happiness.
Iceland and Ireland were the best examples, the report found, of how to maintain happiness through social support despite the severity of banking collapses.