How does the Netherlands’ happiness compare to its COVID-19 response?

How does the Netherlands’ happiness compare to its COVID-19 response?

A recent study conducted by Tracking Happiness looked into 138 countries’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and how their approach may have impacted the happiness of their respective populations.

According to the research, the Netherlands is one of the only countries included in the study that had a relatively strict COVID-19 approach, while at the same time landing a spot in the top 10 happiest countries. Why is this?

The link between happiness and a relaxed coronavirus approach

Tracking Happiness’ research used statistics from Oxford University, Our World in Data, and the 2020 World Happiness Report. Oxford University’s Stringency Index considers the actions taken by countries around the world, turning the individual approaches into a metric - for example, if a country takes no steps to combat the spread of coronavirus, then its score would be zero. If a country were to take every possible action, its score would be 100. 

Armed with this data, they set out to find out how happiness data compared to the different approaches to coronavirus that could be found around the world - does a country’s willingness to take action against COVID-19 correlate to a decrease in happiness? How does a country’s happiness compare to its COVID-19 response? Their research led to four key observations:

  • The four happiest countries in the world are less stringent than 88 percent of countries worldwide.
  • The Netherlands, New Zealand, and Austria are the only countries that score positively on relative stringency and are in the top 10 happiest countries.
  • The world’s happiest country - Finland - is ranked 124th out of 138 on the relative stringency scale.
  • The top 10 happiest countries are less stringent than 75 percent of the world.  

Could the Netherlands have been happier with fewer restrictions?

The Netherlands may not have had the world’s strictest approach to the pandemic - ranking 70th out of the 138 participating countries - but the study revealed that it is the happiest country in the world that responded relatively stringently to COVID-19.

Tracking Happiness compared the Netherlands’ score on the Stringency Index to the number of new coronavirus cases (seven-day average) from February 2020 through to March 2021, which revealed that the government’s approach had been relatively severe from day one:

The Netherlands COVID-19 approach vs cases

“There were 69 countries that handled the pandemic more stringently [than the Netherlands], such as Germany and the United Kingdom,” says Hugo Huijer, founder of Tracking Happiness. “Still, none of these countries ranked higher in happiness according to the World Happiness Report of 2020.”

Huijer explains that the study showed that happier countries tended to have more lenient coronavirus approaches - highlighting the Netherlands as “a remarkable outlier.” This does, however, beg the question: could the Netherlands have been happier if it had responded less stringently to the COVID-19 pandemic?

For more information about the study, visit the Tracking Happiness website.

Victoria Séveno


Victoria Séveno

Victoria grew up in Amsterdam, before moving to the UK to study English and Related Literature at the University of York and completing her NCTJ course at the Press Association...

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