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Why Switzerland is one of the world’s ‘happiest countries’

Despite dropping four places from last year, Switzerland still ranks among the world's happiest countries. Here's why.

Climbing the mountains in Zermatt, Switzerland.
Climbing the mountains in Zermatt, Switzerland. Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

It may very well take you forever-and-a-day to find an affordable apartment in Switzerland’s largest cities only to be forced to spend entire Sundays in silence – but the Swiss don’t seem to mind, as Switzerland has once again been ranked among the world’s happiest places.

According to the World Happiness Report 2023, a publication from the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network that draws on global survey data from people in about 150 countries, Switzerland still ranks among the top 10 happiest countries on earth.

In the just-released 2023 edition, Switzerland has, however, slid down to eighth place behind Norway (7th), Sweden (6th), Netherlands (5th), Israel (4th), Iceland (3rd), Denmark (2nd), and Finland, with the Nordic country topping the list for the sixth year in a row.

Though still in the global top 10, this year’s lower ranking stands in stark contrast to last year’s 4th place and to that in 2021 where  Switzerland ranked in the top three. In 2015, Switzerland even managed to top the list. 

Still, with a score of 7,240 in the 2023 ranking compared to Finland’s 7,804, Switzerland is not too far behind. 

Its neighbours, however, didn’t even make it to the top 10. Austria is in the 11th position just as it was in the 2022 edition, Germany dropped two places down to 14th, France now ranks 21st rather than 20th, and Italy dropped a whole five spots to 33rd.

READ ALSO: Switzerland named ‘world’s best destination for expats’

Why are the Swiss so happy?

Though happiness is of course subjective and measuring it may prove an impossible task, when looking at the report, which surveys data from the Gallup World Poll and evaluates various factors to measure happiness, such as GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, and the freedom to make life choices, it becomes evident where the Swiss get their contentment from.

Let’s look at life expectancy.

The Swiss population’s life expectancy at birth is currently one of the highest in the world, with Swiss men outliving men from other countries at a life expectancy at birth of 81.75 years, while Swiss women currently rank 7th at a median life expectancy of 85.08 years. This according to data published by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Overall, the Swiss have the world’s second longest life expectancy (83.45 years), only surpassed by Japan’s 84.26 years average.

When it comes to how much of that lifespan can be lived healthily, latest findings on those trends, published in Swiss Medical Weekly, show an increase in the disability-free life expectancy for both men and women aged 65 over the 10-year study period.

The study found that by 2017 men aged 65 in Switzerland could expect to live another 16.2 years in good health. That was an increase of 2.1 years compared to 2007 when on average men could expect to live another 14.1 years without suffering a disability.

Meanwhile women in Switzerland aged 65 could expect to live for another 16 years in good health in 2017. This reflects an increase of 1.5 years compared to 2007.

Several factors may contribute to the Swiss people’s longer and healthier lives, such as well-distributed material wealth, a balanced and healthy diet, low risk working conditions and the country’s clean environment. The same could be said of their happiness.

A person climbing a rock

People are generally happy in Switzerland. Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Moreover, Switzerland has the second highest levels of per capita GDP in the world – even topping Finland – with its strong economic performance largely driven by the services and industry sectors.

In addition to that, Switzerland prioritises and values the promotion of peace and human rights as part of its Swiss foreign policy. The Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation stipulates that Switzerland must promote respect for human rights and democracy and the peaceful coexistence of peoples (Art. 54) in its foreign relations.

Its strong emphasis on promoting peace and unity can also be felt on a domestic level and is very evident in the country’s outstanding social services. If you ever find yourself in a ditch and are unable to financially support either yourself or your family, there are plenty of places to reach out for help in Switzerland. – and they deliver.

In 2021, there were 265,100 financial social assistance recipients in Switzerland on at least one occasion. In Switzerland, all Swiss citizens or those with a Swiss residence permit can apply for welfare, as can asylum seekers and refugees. Residents outside those categories can also apply for so-called emergency assistance.

Meanwhile, Switzerland-based residents who find themselves out of work through no fault of their own can also register with their regional employment centre (RAV) to receive unemployment benefits for a limited time.

Unemployed persons will generally receive a monthly allowance the equivalent to 70 percent of their insured salary, while those on lower incomes may receive 80 percent of their former salary depending on a number of criteria.

However, it can’t be ignored that Switzerland has dropped down the ranking compared to last year. This could be due to the worsening affordable housing shortage and the rising cost of living, although Switzerland has fared better than other European countries on that front. 

READ ALSO: Which parts of Switzerland are hardest hit by housing shortage?

Still, as you can see there are plenty of reasons for people to love life in Switzerland – and it’s not all down to Switzerland being the equivalent of a chocolate heaven, although that is a lovely bonus.

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For members


How do the Swiss celebrate Ascension Day?

Ascension Day is on Thursday May 18th this year. Here’s how the Swiss celebrate it - and where.

How do the Swiss celebrate Ascension Day?

In Switzerland, May 18th marks Ascension Day, one of the few Swiss nationwide public holidays – alongside Christmas Day and New Year’s Day – to be celebrated in every canton with a day off work.

Ascension Day, which is synonymous with the German and Austrian holiday Christi Himmelfahrt, is in fact equated with Sunday, so shops in Switzerland are closed all day.

How Ascension Day celebrated in Switzerland?

While most people living in Switzerland look forward to kicking off the extended weekend with a relaxing getaway, some traditions to celebrate Ascension day are still observed in many cantons.

Once upon a time, ceremonial processions to mark Ascension day, which would see the Swiss walk through fields and meadows, were prevalent in most Catholic regions across Switzerland.

However, today, only a few rural communities in Lucerne carry out these traditional Ascension day processions, known as Auffahrstumritt, in their original religious form.

The oldest, largest and by far most popular Ascension day procession takes place every year in Beromünster when around 1,000 people travel some 18 kilometres to meditate, pray and walk among like-minded people, listen to sermons by the clergy and/or receive blessings.

Each year, the procession – which lasts around eight-and-a-half hours – takes residents and visitors along a centuries-old path through various towns and villages. Following that, more people – sometimes up to 5,000 – join in for a large celebration to mark the end of the procession and in turn, Ascencion day.

Swiss city of Lucerne

The Swiss city of Lucerne. Photo: Geertje Caliguire on Unsplash

READ ALSO: When are the Swiss public holidays in your canton in 2023?

The municipality of Sempach and the city of Lucerne also maintain similar traditions.

In Liestal, an industrial town based in the canton of Basel-Land, residents celebrate a so-called Banntag (community boundary day) on the Monday prior to Ascension day.

On Banntag, all male Liestal residents, men whose hometown is Liestal, as well as all their male guests and school-age children of both sexes stroll along the boundaries of their municipality.

On the day, residents are divided into four groups based on their family ties and neighbourhood with a leader, fife, drum band, and fancy flag to boot.

The Banntag traditionally starts at 6 am with a shooting demonstration by the marksmen in the Rathausstrasse, following which the town gate bell is rung to gather the townspeople. At 8 am the groups then begin the 26-kilometre march along communal boundaries, followed by a few rounds of bar hopping in Liestal’s taverns.