Data indicates that people living in Middle Eastern countries tend to be either very happy or very unhappy.

Author: Luca Ventura


The collapse in oil prices, anti-government protests erupting everywhere, Covid-19: bad things almost always happen fast. Against the backdrop of these contemporary challenges for the Middle East there is a history of longstanding problems: wars and ethnic conflicts, unresolved religious disputes, and humanitarian disasters.

The 2021 World Happiness Report paints a picture of extremes in the Middle East region: on the one hand, some very rich and quite content nations and on the other, some nations so unhappy that they are either buried at the bottom of the global ranking (Yemen) or entirely excluded (Syria, for which no evaluation is provided).

War is probably the single worst ingredient for human happiness and the report has pointed out countless times over the years that wealth in and of itself doesn’t do the trick either. Along with income, social support in times of need, healthy life expectancy, absence of corruption in government, freedom to make life choices and generosity towards others are the other key variables that the researchers of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network of the United Nations use in their report to assess life satisfaction.

A balance of all these factors provides a better shot at overall happiness than only a few good ones to the detriment of the others and it is that balance that many Middle Eastern nations lack. 


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Agriculture, fishing and trading pearls: these used to be the economic mainstays of this Persian Gulf nation. Then oil was discovered in the 1950s and everything changed. Today, its highly cosmopolitan population enjoys considerable wealth. Traditional Islamic architecture is mixed with modern skyscrapers and opulent shopping centers and workers come from all over the world lured by tax-free salaries and year-round sunshine (to wit, only about 20% of the people living in the country are actually locally-born).

The United Arab Emirates is a happy country—mostly. This year, it dropped four spots in the United Nations’ global report on happiness to the 25th position. With roughly 10 million residents, the emirate was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The non-oil economy—tourism in particular—was heavily impacted and migrant wage workers—who generally report much lower levels of happiness compared to native nationals to begin with—often found themselves suddenly unemployed and without any safety net. As the report has highlighted many times over the years, the happiest countries tend to also be the most generous and equal.


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This tiny island nation in the Persian Gulf knows something about happiness: since 2013 when Bahrain stood at 79th place in the global happiness ranking, it climbed 57 spots (18 of them in just the last year) to the 22nd spot globally.

With a population of just 1.6 million and wealth based on both oil and natural gas resources as well as banking and tourism, Bahrain is one of the richest nations in the world. But the country's wealth is not new, so what caused its recent and rapid ascent in the happiness rankings? Over the past few years, the government greatly expanded social programs supporting employment, equality and general wellbeing. As a result, Bahrain scores well when it comes to supporting people and families in times of need, healthy life expectancy and freedom to make life choices. What governments do and don't do has a major impact on determining the happiness of their people and Bahrain's government has stepped up its game.


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In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, Israel managed to gain two spots in World Happiness Report. Since the index was released for the first time almost a decade ago, Israel never made it into the top 10, but it never slipped below 14th either. In other words, it is one of the most consistently happy countries in the world.

While high infection and death rates within a country did not change significantly the overall happiness score, people’s perception of how their country was handling the pandemic contributed to a rise in wellbeing, and Israel did a great job.

Yet, over the years, many have wondered how this nation of 9 million—surrounded by hostile neighbors and perpetually embroiled in conflict, as the recent military operations in Gaza show—could truly be so happy.  Easy answer: happiness, it bears repeating, is not just determined by the presence or the lack of one given element. Israel is a rich and vibrant country where people can rely on strong social support and feel they can decide how to pursue their goals in life.

Happiest Countries in the Middle East


Global Rank


Regional Rank



12 1 Israel
22 2 Bahrain
25 3 United Arab Emirates
26 4 Saudi Arabia
47 5 Kuwait
111 6 Iraq
118 7 Iran
123 8 Lebanon
125 9 Palestinian Territories
127 10 Jordan
141 11 Yemen
Source: The UN's 2021 World Happiness Report.