NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Switzerland has the world's happiest people, according to researchers in a study released on Thursday.
In the annual World Happiness Report, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada followed in the rankings that measured happiness and well-being levels in 158 countries.
The study, produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), found the most unhappy people lived in Togo, Burundi, Syria, Benin and Rwanda.
"The aspiration of society is the flourishing of its members," said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York, where the report was presented.
"This report gives evidence on how to achieve societal well‐being. It's not by money alone, but also by fairness, honesty, trust and good health."
Recognising the importance of happiness and well-being as "universal goals and aspirations in the lives of people around the world," the United Nations General Assembly established The International Day of Happiness in 2012.
The study, which was first released in 2012, looked at such factors as healthy life expectancy, the presence of social support systems, freedom to make choices and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, that determine most of the variations in people's well-being over time and among countries.
For the first time, researchers broke down the data by gender, age and region.
They found that, on average, women's assessments of their happiness were slightly higher than those of men, and that young people globally are happier than older people.
Nine of the top 10 countries this year were also at the top in the 2013 study, athough the ranking has changed. In 2013, Denmark held the top spot.
Changes in how people evaluated their lives comparing data from the 2005-2007 period to 2012-2014 showed the impact of the global financial crisis on national happiness.
For example, Greece, which was badly hit by the economic recession, saw a considerable drop in the happiness of its people.
Marred by political and civil unrest, Egypt also saw a drop in happiness, followed by Italy, which ranked number 50.
"Of the 125 countries with data available for both 2005-2007 and 2012-2014, there were 53 countries with significant improvements, 41 with significant worsening, and 36 without significant change," said the report.
People's happiness and well-being should be taken into account in the new Sustainable Development Goals that will adopted by the United Nations later this year, experts said.
Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Lisa Anderson