World Happiness Report 2021: World Shows Resilience Importance of Trust and Benevolence: Will you get your lost wallet back?

Every year UN and Gallup polls would survey countries of the world. Now we know that one of the Scandinavian countries takes a prize. The USA has been in the top 20, though. If we can increase our healthy life expectancy, we may push to the top 10. Gallup Poll measures following in the survey questions.

  • Happiness score or subjective well-being or life Ladder: on scale of 1-10, what is your life satisfaction?
  • GDP
  • Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) at the birth (USA ranks at around 60).           HLE= Life expectancy minus poor heathy years
  • Social support (or having someone to count on in times of trouble)
  • Freedom to make life choices
  • The generosity of the society
  • Corruption Perception
  • Positive affect is the average of three positive affect measures in the poll:

happiness, laughter, and enjoyment

  • Negative affect is the average of three negative affect measures: worry, sadness, and anger.
  • Household Income and Gini Index (is a summary measure of income inequality)
  • Institutional trust: confidence in the national government, judicial system and courts, confidence in the honesty of elections, confidence in the local police force, and perceived corruption in business.

This ninth World Happiness Report is unlike any that have come before. COVID-19 has shaken, taken, and reshaped lives everywhere. The change from 2017-2019 to 2020 varied considerably among countries, but not enough to change rankings in any significant fashion materially. The order for happiest countries did not change.

Covid did decrease life satisfaction but not significantly. Covid did not change our positive emotions. It did change to increase our negative emotions (Clinically depressed individuals have more negative emotions while having the same positive emotions compared to normal controls).

World Happiness Report 2020 found that individuals with high social and institutional trust levels were happier than those living in less trustworthy environments. Trust and cooperative social norms facilitate rapid and collaborative responses, which themselves improve the happiness of citizens and demonstrate to people the extent to which others are prepared to do benevolent acts for them and the community in general. Since this sometimes comes as a surprise, there is a happiness bonus when people get a chance to see the goodness of others in action and be of service themselves. One of the questions asked was: do you expect your valuables (Wallets with money, key, and business card) to be returned if lost? The effect size on life satisfaction of those who expected it to be returned was significantly higher than the negative effects of being unemployed or doubling your income. A real-life study in 40 countries showed that lost wallets would make it back half of the time (Your odds are higher if you have more money and a key inside!). Humans are surprisingly honest when it comes to returning lost wallets. Altruism is alive and well, and it makes you happy, and more than that, it makes people around you happy. Benevolence is one way you can contribute today to boost USA rank!!

Thank you for reading. Please send your comments to me at

Tarak Vasavada, MD
Medical Director
Live well foundation Madison County Medical Society, Alabama