The Happiest Places on Earth?

The Happiest Places on Earth? October 2, 2012

Happiness. What is it, and how do we get it? This is an age-old question which I will hopefully discuss in the future. In the meantime, this research from the UN makes claims to the happiest countries in the world. There is also the Happy Planet Index which takes into account happiness, environmental impact and life expectancy.

The UK? no there. The US? Nada. Canada? Smug gits…:) 

World’s happiest countries

By Christine Sarkis | Smarter Travel – Fri, Sep 28, 2012 8:29 PM EDT


(Photo: Visit Denmark)

Book a flight to your happy place. Two major reports published this year rank the world’s happiest countries and offer travelers some winningly convivial destinations.

The World Happiness Report — commissioned by the United Nations — offers a snapshot of the state of happiness in today’s world, while the Happy Planet Index report measures how countries balance personal well-being, environmental impact, and life expectancy. Plan your next trip right and the happiness just might rub off on you.

The World Happiness Report

Denmark: First Place

Crowning The World Happiness Report, Denmark proves you don’t need the sun to have a sunny disposition. Its position at the top of a list dominated by Northern European countries suggests that there’s something about the high-latitude attitude that promotes happiness in its inhabitants.

(Photo: Visit Finland)

Finland: Second Place

Finland gets the happiness equation right, with a healthy work-life balance and a high overall quality of life. Not only does that make a more contented populous, but it also means visitors will be in good company among locals who embrace leisure time, family, and of course, vacation.

(Photo: Les Haines via flickr/CC Attribution)(Photo: Les Haines via flickr/CC Attribution)

Norway: Third Place

Not only does Norway score high on happiness charts again and again, but it also regularly ranks as one of the world’s best places to live. You don’t need a permanent address to embrace the best of the country, though: From summer’s midnight sun to the northern lights of winter, there’s plenty to make travelers smile.

(Photo: Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions)

Netherlands: Fourth Place

Are the tulips and bicycles signs of happiness or reasons for it? That’s the chicken-and-egg question from the Netherlands, which ranked as the fourth-happiest country in The World Happiness Report. The Netherlands showed a surprisingly equal distribution of happiness across its entire population. We’ll take that as a sign that there’s enough to share with visitors, too.

(Photo: Canadian Tourism Commission)

Canada: Fifth Place

North America’s top contender on the happiness scale, Canada is a destination closer to home for U.S. travelers looking for some vacation joy. With high scores for political freedom, strong social networks, and health and economic stability, Canadians have plenty to smile about. For the cheeriest getaway, head to Quebec, which ranked highest among the individual provinces.

Next: Happy Planet Index

(Photo: Arturo Sotillo via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)(Photo: Arturo Sotillo via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Happy Planet Index

Costa Rica: First Place

Costa Rica tops the Happy Planet Index for the second time. With the country’s high life expectancy (higher than in the U.S.), a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2021, and a degree of well-being that outranks many richer nations, Costa Rica offers a winning combination of happy people and happy planet.

(Photo: Davidlohr Bueso via flickr/CC Attribution)(Photo: Davidlohr Bueso via flickr/CC Attribution)

Vietnam: Second Place


It’s been a slow road back for Vietnam in recent decades, but with healthy economic growth, an increasing life expectancy, and solid reported well-being, Vietnam scores second place in this year’s Happy Planet Index. And with tourism on the rise, it’s clear that more visitors are happily discovering the country.

(Photo: Federico Puyo)

Colombia: Third Place

Surprised to see Colombia climbing the index? Don’t be — this is a country that’s serious about well-being. In 2004, capital city Bogota published the report Planning for Happiness. And a major social project aimed at improving the lives of half a million people is ongoing. Instability and inequality remains an issue, but Colombia is still an up-and-comer on both the happy planet and the tourism fronts.

(Photo: Canon in 2D via flickr/CC Attribution)
(Photo: Canon in 2D via flickr/CC Attribution)

Belize: Fourth Place

A history of peace, impressive cultural diversity, and the world’s second-longest barrier reef. Belize’s place near the top of the index seems natural to many who’ve visited the small Central American country. And for U.S. travelers, the happiness needs no translation, since English is the official language in Belize.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons via CC Attribution

El Salvador: Fifth Place

El Salvador balances well-being, life expectancy, and environmental impact to score a spot on the Happiness Planet Index’s top five. Decades removed from civil war, the country still isn’t on the beaten path for most travelers. But it should be: Visitors will find friendly hosts, beautiful natural offerings, and vibrant city life.

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  • JohnM

    I’m danish! And… Well it’s not true.

    People here aren’t all that happy. All female teenagers are depressed that they don’t look like the photo shopped models in the magazines. All the male teenagers are angry, that they can’t afford the newest version of iPhone. We also have many cases of suicide among younger generations. And 50% of all marriages, turn into a divorce. Resulting in a lot of children growing up without a mom or dad. Furthermore, we Danes do complain a lot.. About the welfare state. About the tax levels.. and so on. And so on. And ofcourse, people are really good at making each other feel worthless.. If you’re a smoker, then everyone will look down upon you.. If your not the ideal weight, then everyone will comment on your weight. If you’re not dressed in the right kind of clothes in school, then you are bound to be picked on.

    People who don’t have any real problems, just tend to enlarger their luxury problems, and suffer the same.

    • The thing is, John, that is the same for all Western nations. So Denmark is no different. However, it has its advantages over poverty-stricken nations. It also has high levels of education, national identity, localisation, a small population, decent environmental credentials, democracy and very high quality of life.

      You need to think of your country comparatively. If I could compare areas of inner-city Copenhagen to inner city London, Manchester, Birmingham, New Orleans of Johannesburg, there is no contest.

    • Some of what you said has purchase. I actually believe we have a default level of happiness we all generally migrate towards. The variability, in other words, is somewhat confined as you state.

      See this from 11.16 onwards. Fascinating.

      • JohnM

        Thanks for the link. Interesting lecture.

        Much of what he says, actually adds up with what I’ve observed here in little tiny Denmark. Of course people have their “basic needs covered” so generally, they are pretty happy with that, around these parts. On the other hand..

        I do think that the negative, affect you a lot more than the positive.. Winning a price.. Or buying an xbox 360.. Well sure that’s cool. But we get over it, as he says..

        While some negative effects stays with us much longer.. Things like having been molested as a child, having been raped, having lost a child or having gone though a divorce. These things tends to affect people for very long periods of time, if not their whole life.


        The only thing that I didn’t understand about the lecture, was the question about how much money people want to make. Apparently, people would rather make 65 than 75, if it meant that they were making more than everyone else..

        And he said that it’s explained by us being a “status conscious primate”. But that’s gibberish!!!

        It’s much better explained by economics 101, in relation to real wages and inflation, something that most people have a basic understanding of..

        It’s always preferable to make more than the ones around you, regardless of the amount that you make. If everyone is making 85, then the prices are going to go up a lot.. And so someone making 75, while others make 85, will actually have less buying power, than someone making 65 while everyone else makes 55.

        So no, it’s not a matter of being a “status conscious primate”. It’s a matter of people having understood the concept of real wages and inflation.

        • No, psychologically speaking status is more important to people’s happiness than buying power, and even more so when it is relative to those around you. A person would more likely take £50,000 if those around him/her were on £45,000 than £60,000 if those around them were on £80,000. Hence the quote from the professor who was offered a job.

          “What salary would you like?”

          “I don;t care, as long as it is higher than the highest earner in the faculty.”

          (or similar)

          This informs our ideas of success since the comparability is so obviously real – we are succeeding more than those around us by virtue of a valuation of that success, and it is the people around us who determine this and our resulting feeling of contentment with life’s lot.

          I don’t think it is gibberish at all. When you think about your job and how successful you have been in life, do you compare it to the people you know, or random people in society who have no bearing on your life (but who may be earning more or less than you)?

          As the Reader’s Digest (!) concisely explains:

          “Money can buy a degree of happiness. But once you can afford to feed, clothe and house yourself, each extra dollar makes less and less difference.

          Whenever and wherever they look, scientists find that, on average, wealthier people are happier. But the link between money and happiness is complicated. In the past half-century, average income has skyrocketed in industrialized countries, yet happiness levels have remained static. Once your basic needs are met, money only seems to boost happiness if you have more than your friends, neighbors and colleagues.

          • JohnM

            Well I’m not going to deny, that some people seek the status, and derive pleasure / happiness from that. On the other hand, I’m sure you’re aware, that there are a lot of unhappy new-rich millionares.

            Their money issues are gone, but now they can’t go anywhere, without having their picture taken. And their children are suddenly at risking of getting kidnapped. And they have to bring bodyguards. And they have to sign special papers when getting married because you can’t be certain that they really love you… maybe they just want your money. And so on… I certainly wouldn’t like to be famous and wealthy like that.

            So while I can see, that most people answer, that they are really happy here in Denmark, I truly doubt that they are. Yes we do have all these material things. There’s no hunger. No war. Yet.. many people are very unhappy and miserable, despite having all these material things.. And the majority of people can never satisfy their greed for money. And the few that does, just ends up with a tons of other problems.

            My idea of worldly happiness, is not to worry too much about money, to enjoying the job that I have, and be proud of what I accomplish though that, and what I accomplish outside of that.

            The pay check is not really my big focus. It’s actually a bit of a problem for me.. You know, Jesus was never a rich guy.. And what he had, he gave to the poor. He also completely dismissed, what most people today seek, in their quest for happiness. And he said things like:

            Matthew 6:19-21

            Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

            Clearly, he had a very different view of happiness. And in many ways, people today, in my view, use all these material things, to try and plug a hole in themselves, that won’t be plugged by such things.

            But I don’t see how any amount of Mercedes Benz, fake boobs and penthouse apartments, can plug that hole. Because it is a hole or an empty void inside of us, intended to be filled with the joy of knowing God.

  • But John, the point would be that if you could pick a country in the world that would have the highest average happiness, what country would it look like.

    The issue is that all the problems you point out with Denmark are within all Western countries, and arguably far more so.

    So to counter those problems, you would have to move to Eastern or less developed countries. But they have worse predicaments (standard of life etc) which potential put their average happinesses lower.

    What do you THINK would be the happiest countries?

    • JohnM

      Well Denmark I guess.. Because we do have all our basic needs covered. And in general, there’s very little reason to complain about our lives.

      I was just objecting to the picture often being painted of Denmark, as a country full of “happy people”. Because we’re not. And the material wealth that we have, does not equal living in a paradise. People still finds ways of being sad and miserable, despite everything.

      • JohnM

        What would it take to make Denmark country full of “happy people”? Well I don’t think that it’s possible to get to that.

        On the other hand, I do think that individuals can have joy in their life, despite whatever they suffer in life, by having a true friend that walks besides them, in Jesus Christ.

        And once you got that…. then you may be poor… you may be prosecuted…. You may lose everything. Yet, you are still going to have that joy in your life. The same joy, that I feel, that I have in my life. A joy that makes me focus less on my own happiness and success in life.. And focus more on what I can do to share what I have found.

        So the key to “happiness” for me, is not material wealth or having “the basic needs” covered. It’s having a relationship with my creator. And without that, I’m miserable and lacking something. And yes, there have been times in my life, where I’ve been running off to do no good deeds. And it just feels empty and void after a while.

      • Sure – I agree to that. If the question is, what question would you rather live in, and the answer is Denmark, then of course it warrants its place. But your point is salient.

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