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Denmark Is the World's Happiest Country

The world's happiest country has been in the top 10 happiest countries for the past few years. Continue reading →

The happiest country in the world is famous for its butter cookies, Lego bricks and fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen - it's Denmark, according to the 2016 World Happiness Report.

Denmark's top spot isn't exactly a surprise. The country ranked first in the 2013 World Happiness Report and third in the 2015 report. In fact, most of the top 10 happiest countries have retained their spots from last year, "although there has been some swapping of places," the new report said.

The new report comes out just before World Happiness Day on March 20, and was released at the Bank of Italy during a conference on happiness and subjective well-being today (March 16). [See the Top 20 and Bottom 20 Happiest Countries of 2016]

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Denmark scored a happiness rating of 7.526 out of a possible 10 points, with Switzerland (7.509), Iceland (7.501) and Norway (7.498) close on its heels. The United States (7.104) placed 13th - up two spots from last year, when it ranked 15th out of 158 countries.

Promote well-being In an effort to foster sustainable development, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commissioned the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) in 2012, with goals such as ending world hunger and poverty, ensuring healthy lives, and promoting well-being. The network of leaders from academia, governments and the private sector published their first happiness report in 2012 and every year after that except for 2014 because at first the report was published with18-month intervals.

The 2016 Happiness Report includes the rankings of 157 countries based on survey data from 2013 to 2015. Each country had an average sample size of 3,000 people who answered questions pertaining to six variables: gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, generosity and absence of corruption.

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The top 10 countries are "all small or medium-sized Western industrial countries, of which seven are in Western Europe," according to the report. Surprisingly, the top 10 countries averaged a happiness score of 7.4 - more than double the 3.4 average of the bottom 10 countries, according to the report.

The least-happy countries include Benin (3.484), Afghanistan (3.360), Togo (3.303), Syria (3.069) and Burundi (2.905).

Ministry of happiness The rankings are telling, as they account for more than just the economics of a country, said Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and co-editor of the report. [5 Weird Ways to Measure Happiness]

"Measuring self-reported happiness and achieving well-being should be on every nation's agenda as they begin to pursue the Sustainable Development Goals," Sachs said in a statement. "Indeed, the goals themselves embody the very idea that human well-being should be nurtured through a holistic approach that combines economic, social and environmental objectives."

In fact, five governments (Bhutan, Ecuador, Scotland, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela) have appointed "ministers of happiness," according to the report. However, it's unclear how much these ministers have helped to boost happiness. Though Venezuela created the position in 2013, the country dropped from the 20th- to 23rd-happiest country between 2013 and 2015,according to CNN.

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Venezuela isn't the only country to move up or down the blissful ladder. The authors of the report compared data from 2005-2007 with that from 2013-2015, and found that out of 126 countries, 55 showed significant increases in happiness while 45 showed significant decreases. The remaining 26 countries had no significant change, the researchers found.

"The rankings show both consistency and change," said study co-editor John Helliwell, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of British Columbia. "The consistency at the top reflects mainly that life evaluations are based on life circumstances that usually evolve slowly, and that are all at high levels in the top countries.

"The year-to-year changes are also moderated by the averaging of data from three years of surveys in order to provide large sample sizes," he added. "However, when there have been long-lasting changes in the quality of life, they have led to large changes in life-evaluation levels and rankings, as shown by the many countries with large gains or losses from 2005-2007 to 2013-2015."

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Overall, average happiness worldwide is 5.1, the researchers found. They added that people tend to be happier in societies that have more equal levels of happiness among its people.

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Laughs and smiles in chimps turn out to be far more human-like than previously thought and they date to at least 5 million years ago, suggests a new study on chimpanzee facial expressions and vocalizations. Laughter is not 100 percent identical between the two primates, but people who hear a chuckling chimp usually have little trouble figuring out what the sound generally means. Chimps go "h-h-h," while humans sound more like "ha-ha-ha" or "he-he-he," said Marina Davila Ross, a senior lecturer in the University of Portsmouth's Department of Psychology and lead author of the study in PLOS ONE. Then there is the flexibility of the sounds and related expressions. "Chimpanzees, like humans, can produce their facial expressions free from their vocalizations," Ross explained. "This ability is important for humans. For instance, it allows us to add a smile while talking or laughing, and we can also produce smiles silently. Until now, we did not know that non-human primates also have this ability." It's even possible that the skills first emerged in the common ancestor of chimps and humans.

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In both humans and chimps, facial expressions associated with laughter and happiness usually involve an open mouth with a display of teeth. "Open mouth expressions, otherwise known as play faces, or as we call them, laugh faces, typically expose the lower teeth by virtue of the mouth being wide or stretched open," co-author Kim Bard, who is a professor of comparative developmental psychology at the University of Portsmouth, told Discovery News. "We found that there were many types of open mouth expressions, including some configurations with the upper lip drawn up, which sometimes exposes the upper teeth."

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Little Callie the chimp, shown in this photo, is enjoying a good laugh with a human friend. Chimps, like people, sometimes laugh and smile when they are alone, too. "We know that laughter and open mouth faces occur mostly during play, but they can occur in solitary play as well as social play," Bard said. "So our current theory is that laughter (in chimps) is typically associated with feelings of joy."

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Both young chimps and children tend to laugh and smile a lot, probably because they play more than adults do (and have less to worry about). But why would teeth be exposed as a sign of friendliness? Some experts suspect that the open mouth/exposed teeth expression, during non-threatening play times, allows the other individual to learn how to assess others and to adjust their reactions. Another theory is that a toothy smile often is a visual signal of submissiveness, given that the jaws are usually drawn backward as opposed to the forward thrust of a "grrr" sound and related facial expression.

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Since laughter is seen and heard by others, it works wonders as a social bonding tool. In this case, the baby chimp is laughing as its mother tickles its stomach. The researchers suspect that bonobos, like chimps and humans, also benefit from this type of bonding, and have very flexible facial expressions and vocalizations.

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So far, observations of chimps show they are always honest laughers, meaning that the sounds function as true signals of joy. People, on the other hand, are notorious for fake laughter. We can smile and laugh as though we are happy, even when we're not. There is, however, a complex twist to chimp laughter: what elicits happiness in some might not in others. "I've seen adolescent males (chimps) who sometimes exhibit bullying behavior, laughing softly while they are picking on another chimpanzee, who is usually not enjoying the interaction," Bard said. "When the victim gets annoyed enough to try to stop the bullying behavior, then the adolescent can respond with greater laughter, which is even more annoying!" "So the laughter is 'joyful,'" she said, "but the adolescent finds picking on another chimpanzee, and even their attempt at retaliation, to be something that brings the adolescent some joy."

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Studying the origin of laughter and smiles could help researchers better understand disorders such as autism. This condition is characterized, in part, by difficulties communicating via such signals, and in forming relationships with others. The research also helps us to better understand the abilities of non-human primates, and our evolutionary connections to them. As this image and the one before it show, there's not much difference between a chimp "laugh face" and the typical expression of humans as they enjoy a good guffaw.