Why are Italians ranked among the ‘unhappiest in Europe’?

Despite the romantic image portrayed of Italians living 'la dolce vita', one study has ranked the country as among the unhappiest in Europe. Here's the data behind the discontent.

Why are Italians ranked among the 'unhappiest in Europe'?
Italy hasn't ranked well in the happiness scale for Europe. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Italy’s population has placed among the least content in Europe, according to a new study by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Happiness can be a woolly concept and hard to define, but the 2022 World Happiness Report has attempted to do that in a global survey of almost 150 countries.

Italy ranked 31st worldwide, faring well on a worldwide scale, but in Europe it lagged way behind some of its neighbours – who not only ranked highly in Europe but globally too. Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland took the four top spots globally.

In Europe, Italy also placed behind France, Germany, Austria, Ireland and slightly behind Spain and Romania.

Why were Italians ranked as being unhappy?

Based on scores over the period 2019-2021, the study took into account the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which may go some way to explaining Italy’s poor happiness index as it bore the brunt of the first waves of coronavirus infection in Europe in 2020.

Of course, there will be individual variations and happiness is difficult to scientifically define or measure.

Researchers used the following seven categories to assess each country’s happiness level:

  • Social support
  • Life expectancy
  • Freedom to make life choices
  • Generosity
  • GDP per capita
  • Perceptions of corruption
  • Positive and negative affects – dystopia (evaluating how much better life is in a given country in comparison to ones with bad living conditions).

“Our measurement of subjective well-being continues to rely on three main indicators: life evaluations, positive emotions, and negative emotions,” the report said.

“Happiness rankings are based on life evaluations as the more stable measure of the quality of people’s lives.”

Italy scored quite well in terms of its GDP, social support and healthy life expectancy, but respondents expressed a much lower value of freedom to make life choices compared to its European neighbours. Italians didn’t fare so well in dystopia either.

The report highlighted how Italy’s anxiety and sadness grew in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, based on social media analysis.

The Covid-19 pandemic could go some way to explaining Italy’s poor happiness ranking. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Five weeks after the outbreak of Covid, Italy showed the highest levels of anxiety globally. Levels of sadness grew too.

“On average, sadness reached its highest level three weeks after the outbreak, and remained stable for the following two weeks. The gradual increase of sadness terms occurred a while after stringency of social distancing measures increased, and remained high about two weeks later,” the report stated.

READ ALSO: Twelve statistics that show how the pandemic has hit Italy’s quality of life

Positive emotions also dropped in Italy as public health measures became stricter, the report noted.

However, throughout the turmoil, Italy ranked highly for supporting and taking care of each other – it was in fact the nationality least likely to simply take care of themselves.

Italy has consistently ranked poorly for perception of corruption: though there have been steady improvements over the past decade, it continues to rate as one of the most corrupt nations in Europe.

Despite the country’s overwhelmingly positive image abroad, Italy is in fact no stranger to poor rankings in various international comparisons on everything from corruption levels to English language proficiency.

You can find out more about those rankings below:

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What are the rules on tipping in Italy?

Ten percent? Twenty? Nothing at all? Here's our guide to paying your bill at restaurants and bars in Italy without getting carbonara on your face.

What are the rules on tipping in Italy?


Let’s start with the fundamentals: you may not stay in fancy hotels or travel by taxi in Italy, but you are probably going to eat at a restaurant at some point, and don’t want to be worrying about how much extra to set aside for the bill.

Here, you can relax: tipping big isn’t required or expected in Italy. 

That’s partly because Italian waitstaff aren’t reliant on tips to get by like they are in many parts of the US; and partly because in some restaurants, it’s already included in the bill.

If you see servizio listed as one of the items on your conto (bill), service has been covered. It will usually be no more than a couple of euros per diner.

READ ALSO: How to spot the Italian restaurants to avoid

At most sit-down establishments, you can expect to see a coperto (‘cover’) charge of anywhere between €1 to €2.50 per person to cover basics like bread and olive brought at the start of the meal. You might also see this cost identified as pane.

This second type of charge goes to the restaurant rather than the server, so it doesn’t constitute a tip.

If you don’t see servizio listed on the bill – or even if you do – you might want to leave a small tip in the form of one or two extra euros per person, and if there’s a group of you paying the bill together, you’d want to round up to at least the nearest five.

READ ALSO: Restaurant near Vicenza welcomes dogs, if they pay a cover charge

But there’s no need to pay 20 or even 10 percent extra.

If you’re paying by card, bear in mind that very few places will be able to add a tip to the card payment – so you might want to carry some change or small notes so you are able to leave something behind.

It's normal in Italy to tip one or two euros extra per diner.

It’s normal in Italy to tip one or two euros extra per diner. Photo by Egor Gordeev on Unsplash.


You generally wouldn’t be expected to leave any tip when visiting a bar in the evening in Italy.

That’s perhaps partly because the majority of Italian bars double up as cafes or coffee bars, so you can go there for your cappuccino in the morning, an espresso and amaro after lunch, and a spritz in the evening. 

The more relaxed quality to these types of bars, and their dual identity as cafes, means there’s not the same bar tipping culture that you’d find in some other countries.

However if you’re at an upscale wine bar and get snacks or sharing plates, then you might consider leaving a little something extra, as you would at a restaurant.

READ ALSO: Where, when and how to drink coffee like an Italian

As for tipping for your coffee; there’s no obligation at all, but it’s common to round up by a few centesimi if it makes sense. For example, if you’re paying 90 cents for an espresso, it’s normal to just leave a euro coin on the counter and walk away.

Many cafes these days also have tip jars on the bar where you can deposit your loose change.

Bear in mind that most cafes will charge you more to drink your coffee sitting at a table than standing up at a bar.

The price lists up by the counter usually refer to the cost of a standing drink, and only some of them also include the sit-down price, so if you’re in a touristy area, it’s worth checking the cost of table service before sitting yourself down.


No tipping is required or expected. Your driver will give you exact change and expect you to keep it – though if you hand them a note that’s a little higher than the amount on the meter and tell them to keep the change, they probably won’t say no.

Though people generally pay by cash, most Italian taxis should also have card machines you can use if you prefer.


For smaller places like B&Bs and guesthouses, there are no expectations of any tip.

For more upscale hotels, you can use the same rule of thumb as applies to restaurants: one or two euros a day as a sign of appreciation to a housekeeper or dedicated waiter who’s taken care of you over the course of your stay.

For porters who carry your bags for you, one euro per bag is the norm.