Europe, in particular Scandinavian and Nordic countries, dominated the top ten of the World Happiness Report’s happiest countries. With the likes of Norway and Finland making the list, two destinations blessed with stunning natural beauty, it’s not hard to see why everyone is so happy.
Here we run through the top five happiest countries, all of which are sure to give you some serious wanderlust.
The World Happiness Report
First published in April 2012, the World Happiness Report works in support of the UN High Level Meeting to measure what is considered to be the proper measure of social progress. It is really a landmark survey that documents the state of global happiness. 155 countries were included in the 2017 report, which continues to gain recognition from governments, organizations and civil societies recognising it as the universal indicator for happiness within their country.
Released on March 20th, this year’s report reinforces the significance that social foundations of happiness has.
The initiative of the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network involves a number of independent experts surveying on average 2,000 people from each country. They aim to find out how highly they rate their lives on a 0-10 scale that covers several factors including:
- Real GDP per capita
- Healthy life expectancy at birth
- Freedom to make life choices
- Perceptions of corruption
It focuses on one simple question: "Imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top," the question asks. "The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?"
So while a country can rank highly for their GDP (Gross Domestic Profit) per capita, they can fall short due to not ranking well on the other key measurements. It is therefore important to remember that money isn’t everything.
Norway was named the happiest country in the world in 2017, knocking Denmark off of the top spot. The country jumped four places to reach the summit after ranking highly on the main factors that constitute happiness, according to the report: “caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance”.
With an average score of 7.54, Norway leads the way in the list and in April 2017, it was also named the seventh safest place to travel by the WEF’s (World Economic Forum) 2017 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report.
What makes Norway so happy?
Scandinavia and Europe dominate the top places in the report, but what is it that makes these regions so happy? One thing that the countries at the top of this table all have in common is the availability of beautiful natural spaces. There have been many studies that prove how being outside and interacting with nature improves your mood and this is one reason why David from Life in Norway believes that Norwegians are so happy:
“One thing behind the Norwegians' happiness is their proximity to the great outdoors. All major cities are located by water and surrounded by forest, easy to access for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. The first time you see a small cabin by the water's edge, the dramatic peaks of the Lofoten islands or an elderly couple on a forest trail, it all makes sense.”
The country’s GDP does have some bearing when it comes to the overall outcome of the results, but it isn’t everything. A steady financial status allows for them to enjoy life’s luxuries, like travel, as Criz from Crizzy Kiss explains:
“It’s normal in Norway to take vacations, whether it’s summer vacation, Christmas/New Year and Easter holidays, on top of all the other public and school holidays all year round. In fact, people are happy for other people to have vacations too. Thereby, giving the residents a healthy and a well-balanced lifestyle.”
Similarly, Robert, the brains behind Leave your daily hell points towards the financial state of the country as a significant factor and something that other countries can learn from:
"You know how they say money doesn't buy happiness? Well, I believe the fact that Norwegians are the second-richest people in the world is a big part of why they're so happy. Of course, being located in a paradise filled with fjords, waterfalls and smoked salmon doesn't hurt things, but the prosperous financial system Norway has created, in my opinion, is central to the happiness of its citizens. The rest of the world should study it more closely!"
Everyone is in it together in Norway. Each village, town and city is fuelled by community spirit. Not only that, but with a high GDP per capita, low medical fees, a pension open to everyone and free education, there is a lot to smile about. And Criz agrees:
“In Norway, there are many reasons for happiness. Aside from the fact that they excel in good governance, education, healthcare and social benefits; which in turn equates to more freedom.”
Silvia Lawrence, from Heart My Backpack has made Norway her home and understands what makes them smile:
“Norwegians place a strong focus on the simple things in life. They live for life outside of work, not their careers, and most will happily choose a weekend in a small log cabin in the mountains over a luxurious getaway somewhere. Norwegians have a huge appreciation for their country's beautiful landscapes, and if you visit Norway you'll quickly understand why. In fact it's remarkably easy to find happiness when surrounded by Norway's natural beauty.”
What can you do in Norway?
“Who wouldn’t want to visit the land of Vikings and Trolls?” said Criz, and you can’t argue with her. The land of Norway is home to many myths, folklore and tales which have captivated the imagination of people for thousands of years.
“Norway is known for its nature, and its fjords. With the magical northern lights, breathtaking mountains stretching across the horizon, a picture perfect postcard moment is waiting around almost every corner. With the rich sea and abundant wildlife, you can find a harmony, a balance in the natural nature of Norway.”
“Norway has amazing sunrises and sunsets and the rare experience of daylight for 24 hrs and darkness for 24 hrs. It has a long and interesting culture and traditions with roots extending thousands of years back to the Viking age and beyond. With a host activities and things to do for FREE. Norway is simply a beautiful place to live and visit all year round.”
In a country blessed with unparalleled natural beauty, there are few more inspiring sights than seeing the Northern Lights. The physical phenomenon that is the aurora borealis occurs when electrically charged particles from the sun collide with gases from the Earth’s atmosphere. The lights have fascinated people throughout the ages, with various myths and legends surrounding them. Some believe the colours to be a representation of their ancestors protecting them from the dark, while the Sami people saw the lights as having supernatural powers.
One of Mother Nature’s finest pieces of work, Geirangerfjord sees impressive waterfalls cascades down the side of the near vertical sides at the staggering UNESCO-protected site.
The jewel of Norway’s many fjords, this is a landscape plucked from a fairy-tale. Majestic snow-capped mountains, powerful waterfalls and dense green woodland make this an unmissable sight on a Norwegian fjord cruise.
Having been voted the happiest country in the world in both 2013 and 2016, Denmark now sits second on the social happiness list. Finishing with an overall score of 7.522, it was just fractionally short of Norway’s 7.537.
Denmark has a great track record when it comes to similar studies and reports. Having scored highly in the World Happiness Report, it also came top of the pile for the world’s happiest workers in 2016 and its capital Copenhagen was voted the world’s best city to live in.
What makes Denmark so happy?
“Surrounded by water on three sides Denmark is a nation full of happy people.” Said Criz. “Perhaps this happiness stems from their ancient stories that includes: mermaids and ugly ducklings brought to life by famous Danish authors, such as, Hans Christian Andersen.”
“Though these titbits of their folk tales is built on historical Danish folklore, it makes for interesting cultural attributes, and interesting people, but that alone does not make a society happy. What makes the Danish people happy, is that Denmark has such a great social system, which is where their freedom and happiness blossoms.
“This happiness comes from a balance, a harmony, of good health care, harmonized work and time off, as well as good educational opportunities; all of which are the beginning ingredients necessary that can equate and elevates a national consciousness to happiness.”
As Criz said, there is a really strong work-life balance in Denmark. Not only are the people happy in their jobs, but they also have the freedom to explore their own ventures, as Nikolaj Lubanski, Director of Talent Attraction at Copenhagen Capacity says: “The Danish working culture is characterised by a high degree of flexibility. In Greater Copenhagen, you can have an interesting job, pursue your career ambitions and be an attentive parent at the same time. In fact, not having to worry about spending too little time with your family is one of the main reasons why many expats say that living in Denmark is great.”
What can you do in Denmark?
Denmark is clean, beautiful and boasts a fascinating history. It certainly left a great impression on Criz:
“Denmark is a living fairy-tale, home to famous authors, fascinating castles and palaces, spectacular gardens and parks. They have beautiful coastlines, beautiful nature nestled near their cosy dazzling cities, like the city of Copenhagen, The walking streets of their cities, are one of their greatest assets. Here you can stroll the day away and when you get tired take a coffee at one of their many outdoor cafes. Their cities balance a hectic inner city combined with coffee shops and shoreline leisure.”
Visit Bakken in Copenhagen
The world’s oldest amusement park is a must-see attraction when in the Copenhagen area. Over 430 years old, Bakken is home to 33 roller coasters, ferris wheels, drop towers and numerous authentic amusement games.
Set amongst the beautiful woodlands of Jægersborg Dyrehave, you have ample opportunity to enjoy the local wildlife, like the some 2,000 deer that live in the forest. Or for anyone feeling a little homesick, head for a pint in an old London bus, which has been converted into a pub.
At the heart of Copenhagen is a historical wonderland sure to capture your heart, Tivoli Gardens. A brilliantly unique mix of thrills and traditional Danish culture, it is actually only second to Bakken as the oldest amusement parks in the world.
Having opened in 1843, Tivoli is a marvellous fairy tale world for both adults and children to enjoy. It has one of the world’s highest chain carousels, as well as numerous roller coasters and authentic Danish games and amusements.
A month after the World Happiness report was released, Iceland was named the third safest and most secure place to travel in the world, behind Finland and the United Arab Emirates. Managing a score of 7.504, Iceland became the third happiest country in the world for a second year in a row.
The report revealed that 99 per cent of those living in Iceland said that they had someone they could count on when times get tough. This was a very high figure and had a very big impact on the overall score.
In the same month as the report came out, the country made headlines when it announced that employers would be required to provide equal pay to their employees. Companies and businesses had to prove that they were paying their employees the same amount regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality, the first country in the world to do so.
Back in 2008, the global financial crash had a very negative effect on the people of Iceland, bringing the general mood down. But in Akureyri, as small town in the north of Iceland, they organised the ‘Smile With Your Heart’ project. All across the town hearts were placed in traffic lights, shop windows and on the side of Mt. Vaðlaheiði. The sole purpose of the initiative was just to create an optimistic mind set.
What makes Iceland so happy?
Despite some hard times, clearly Iceland as a country has done all that it can to help make people as happy as they can. If you take the unrivalled sense of togetherness and couple it with the stunning natural beauty on offer, you get a happy country.
When asked what she thought made the Icelanders so happy, Suzanne Jones from The Travel Bunny highlighted the nation’s landscape:
“Maybe it’s the country’s breath-taking natural beauty of rainbow edged waterfalls, black sand beaches, basalt columns and turquoise blue ice lagoons. A glimpse of an epic waterfall, a dip in a thermal pool or a natural light show like the Northern Lights is guaranteed to be uplifting.
“Iceland might be cold but it’s very toasty with hot springs and thermal under-street heating. The power of glaciers and rivers are harnessed to generate electricity and geothermal fields provide electricity. Icelanders have an inexpensive and almost limitless supply of natural hot water. There’s no pollution because the energy is naturally harnessed.”
If you ever visit Iceland, you’ll be able to witness the locals’ uncompromising respect for the natural world. Not only is it a major tourist attraction, it is a fundamental part of their history and heritage.
How many people look to food for happiness? Fortunately, the Icelandic diet is very healthy. Producing large amounts of their own foods, they consume very few pesticides or chemically modified meals. Omega 3 and vitamin D is rich in their diets, with cold liver oils taken with breakfasts for centuries in the country. Suzanne also pointed to their diet as a reason for their infectious happiness:
“The food in Iceland is excellent. The lamb is the best I’ve tasted. Icelandic sheep roam freely feasting on grass, plants and wild herbs meaning the meat is organic, lean and very tasty. Geothermal heated greenhouses are used to grow huge crops of fresh vegetables without pesticides.
“Those might be some of the reasons Icelanders are always smiling, happy and sociable. Maybe you should go see for yourself. You might just find your happy place too.”
What can you do in Iceland?
Iceland is one of the best places on Earth to see the Northern Lights. Visible for more than eight months of the year, from late August to April, Icelanders are rather spoilt when it comes to the most famous natural sight on the planet.
It is a country of massive volcanic and geothermal activity, giving way to the dramatic landscape and the many geysers that spew hot water into the air. Elsewhere there is the Blue Lagoon, a tourist trap but a must on any Icelandic bucket list.
Finishing narrowly behind Iceland, and indeed everyone else – with a score equalling 99.4 per cent of Norway’s – Switzerland was named as the fourth happiest country in 2017. Switzerland also featured on the WEF’s report for the safest places to travel, coming in a very respectable eighth.
Their ranking is almost identical to the last report, with the country consistently appearing highly. What is also extremely positive is that it came out as a solid all-rounder. With a score 40 per cent higher than the average for the report (5.354), the Swiss rated themselves highly on absence of corruption (three times higher than the mean score), GDP per capita (1.6 times higher) and freedom to make life choices (1.5 times higher).
Having come in second last year and first in 2015, the drop in places does not suggest that the people are necessarily less happy than before, but that other countries are growing faster.
What makes Switzerland so happy?
People can learn a lot from the Swiss. No matter how hectic or stressful a situation is, they will generally remain calm and collected, seamlessly dealing with whatever is put in front of them.
That said, there are very few things to really get worked up about. You rarely see beaming smiles on the tube at 8.00am on a warm, muggy morning in London. Whereas in Switzerland, their public transportation is almost never late, delayed or dirty.
One significant factor to their overall happiness is their constant interactions with people. The odd text message isn’t a sufficient form of ‘catching up’ with friends or family in Switzerland. They are much more inclined to arrange dinner, drinks or an activity.
There is one thing that these countries ranking highly on the report do have in common: unquestionable natural beauty. Norway has its Fjords, Iceland its dramatic volcanic landscape and Switzerland, an abundance of rolling hills and snowy peaks.
What can you do in Switzerland?
Switzerland is blessed with such a diverse landscape that you will never be short of something exciting to do. Whether you wish to head off and try your hand at skiing or tobogganing or appreciating the perfectly blue lakes and lagoons, it is a country that can only truly be enjoyed outside.
The Matterhorn is the most iconic peak in the country and among the highest mountains in the Alps, standing at 4,478 metres along the border with Italy.
This is another for those who aren’t concerned with heights. The top of Europe as it is known, is one of the most popular experiences in Switzerland. Beginning with one of the greatest train journeys on the planet to Jungfraujoch, you can get off and head to the observation terrace and observatory some 3,454 metres up into the sky.
Coming in as the fifth happiest country in the world, Finland adds to the Nordic domination of the top ten. Generally scoring very highly and consistently, the only reason the Fins failed to land a higher place was for their lack of generosity compared to the others.
In April of 2017, Finland was also named the safest place to travel by the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report which is a great representation of the overall positive outlook of the country.
In further recent studies, Finland was named as the most stable country in the world by the Fragile States Index 2017 as well as the best governance in the world by the Legatum Prosperity Index and is the second most gender equal country in the world according to the World Economic Forum.
Though there are many more positive statistics out there, too many to mention, these are all significant indicators as to why it placed so highly and shows exactly why Finland is such a happy country.
What makes Finland so happy?
There have been numerous studies proving that being outside amongst nature can improve your mood and mental wellbeing. This is perhaps one of the reasons why Finland came so high in the list, as one third of Helsinki is covered in green areas. This space allows for plenty of areas to relax and also take up outdoor activities, with a great deal of sports grounds.
Helsinki is an archipelago make up of roughly 330 islands, making for a stunning natural landscape. The whole city is dedicated to making more green and outdoor space for its residents, which as mentioned above, is a proven indicator for better mood.
What can you do in Finland?
Outside of the artistic and vibrant cities like Helsinki, the natural wonderland that is Finland is a playground for anyone looking to ride huskies, hire out snow mobiles or even ski. Of course you can spend your time cleansing yourself in one of the many saunas or stroll around the museums and galleries if you would rather a more relaxed visit to Finland.
The Northern Lights
Finland is among the best places on earth to see the aurora borealis (Northern Lights). Whether you are heading out on your northern lights cruise to see it, or heading onto land to go with an expert guide, the regular sight of this amazing event is sure to make you smile.
Meet Mr. and Mrs. Claus
The official residence of Mr & Mrs Claus has to be a happy country. Finland is commonly regarded as the home of Santa, with opportunities for young families to head out and sit on his lap, where the nickname ‘Lapland’ was coined.
The top 10 happiest countries in the world 2017 –
- New Zealand
Australia and Sweden came a joint ninth in the table, after having the same 2014-2016 score to three decimals.
As mentioned, there is a clear correlation between the top five happiest countries in the world for 2017. Not only are they all European, but they are all countries with large amounts of outdoor space. Indeed, this can relate to the others making up the top 10 like New Zealand and Canada.
What is also apparent is while each of these countries are particularly stable and the residents profit from a high GDP, there is more to happiness than money. It is about having and spending time with people, enjoying the outdoors and feeling secure.