Malta has plummeted 17 places in a global study of happiness in a year of a global pandemic that has "shaken, taken and reshaped lives everywhere".

The island suffered one of the largest falls in the global index, coming in 37th place out of 95 countries.

Authors of the UN's World Happiness Report gauged the impact of the pandemic by comparing the results of surveys carried out in 2020, to the averages from 2017-2019.

The measure of 'life evaluation' for Malta fell from 6.773 in 2017-2019 to 6.157 in 2020, the year of the pandemic. Finland topped the list, followed by Iceland, Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands. 

There was no country report on Malta for the year, so it is unclear whether the political crisis at the end of 2019 had any impact on how people rated their own happiness, or whether the drop was solely down to the impact of COVID-19.

The report's authors said "the pandemic's toll on negative emotions is clear, with 42 countries showing significantly higher frequency of negative emotions". 

But positive emotions increased in 22 countries, and "surprisingly there was not, on average, a decline in well-being when measured by people's own evaluation of their lives," John Helliwell, one of the report's compilers, said in a statement.

"One possible explanation is that people see Covid-19 as a common, outside threat affecting everybody and that this has generated a greater sense of solidarity and fellow-feeling." 

Malta's happiness score was less alarming when the researchers used the survey data and added their own measures such as GDP, social support, personal freedom and levels of corruption to give each nation a happiness score, which is an average of the past three years.  

In that ranking, Malta was in 22nd position among 149 countries - dropping just one place from the previous year. 

Finland retained the top position here too as the world’s happiest nation, with Denmark coming second, followed by Switzerland, Iceland and the Netherlands.

New Zealand, falling one place to ninth, was the only non-European nation in the top ten. Other climbers included Germany and France, rising two to 21st. 

The UK, meanwhile, fell from 13th to 17th place, while the US fell one spot to 19th. 

African nations Lesotho, Botswana, Rwanda and Zimbabwe came at the bottom of the table, but ahead of Afghanistan which was classed as the world's unhappiest nation this year.

Author Jeffrey Sachs meanwhile warned that "we need urgently to learn from Covid-19," adding that "we must aim for wellbeing rather than mere wealth." 

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