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China unhappy with 2018 World Happiness Report

China’s happiness level ranks below Libya, according to new UN report

Netizens are less than pleased with the results of the UN 2018 World Happiness Rankings, which shows the mainland at 86 out of 156 countries surveyed, its lowest ranking in three years.

Compiled for the occasion of World Happiness Day, a UN events which takes place annually on March 20, the report pools results from recent years’ Gallup World Polls and evaluates each country according to its GDP per capita, health, life expectancy, social security, freedom, and “trust and generosity.” The 2018 edition also looked at the happiness of immigrants in 117 countries—and in China’s case, its rural-to-urban internal migrants.

Upon the announcement of results on the UN’s Weibo page on March 15 last week, commenters expressed dissatisfaction that “war-torn” Libya, at 70th place, outranked the mainland (including Hong Kong, at 76). An opinion piece in the Chinese edition of the Global Times quickly cast doubt on the standards of happiness applied by “Western” organizations, as well as the reliability of polls in general: “We may well smile at the results predicted by various authoritative polls during the [2016] US elections.”

Amusingly, the 2017 results had been received much more enthusiastically, as the country had jumped from 83rd place in 2016 to 79th place. A chapter within the new report, however, reveals that China’s happiness levels had steadily decreased in the last 25 years, reaching an all-time low in 2005, though its GDP had grown five-fold in the same period.

The study of migrant happiness suggested that China’s migrant households were less happy on average than both its urban and rural households, based on results of a national survey conducted over a decade ago, in 2003, that asked households to subjectively rank themselves on a scale of “very happy” to “not at all happy.”

According to the 2017 report, lack of income was the major contributor to middle-class people’s unhappiness between 2006 and 2012. Environmental problems, and marriage and relationships, began to take precedence in 2012, but were overtaken by rising property prices in 2016. According to this year’s report, factors that contributed to the unhappiness of migrants included low income, and lack of certainty about the future. It’s a new era for many.


author Hatty Liu

Hatty Liu is the former managing editor of The World of Chinese, and an award-winning communications researcher. Born in China, and raised in China, Canada, and the US, she leverages her cross-cultural identity to create more empathetic knowledge across national boundaries.

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