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The Ten Happiest Countries in the World. Do You Live In One?


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The World Happiness Report 2016 Update, which ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels, was released in Rome in advance of UN World Happiness Day, March 20th. This year, for the first time, the World Happiness Report gives a special role to the measurement and consequences of inequality in the distribution of well-being among countries and regions.





1. Denmark


Denmark is the happiest country in the world, because it rates highly in all the metrics discussed throughout these rankings—life expectancy, income, education—but is also a country hugely committed to renewable energy production (39.1 percent of its energy was wind-generated in 2014). Home to world’s most bike-friendly city and a coastline that you could spend a lifetime exploring, the country’s happiness certainly comes in part from a respect for the planet it's built on. But a recent study from the Copenhagen-based Happiness Research Institute (whose existence is probably reason enough for the top spot) narrows down Denmark’s happiness to a number of different categories, including trust, economic security, freedom, civil society and participation, and work-life balance. Our main takeaway from the report was that if you want to be happy, the first step is to stop stressing about how happy you are and go for a bike ride.

2. Switzerland


From how many vacation days workers should have to how many immigrants should be allowed in to the country, Switzerland is a country where everything is voted on, and referendums down to the local level happen many times a year. This system of direct democracy means that Swiss citizens feel an unparalleled sense of participation in their country’s evolution, from landmark decisions on human rights to whether a new traffic light should be installed in their neighborhood. The Swiss are known to be insular, and it can be off-putting to first time visitors, but there is a strong social fabric held together by a belief that every voice matters, which can go a long way toward feeling content. This political outlook also may help explain why two of its major cities, Zurich and Geneva, made the recent rankings of cities with the best quality of life.

3. Iceland



The World Happiness Report spends an inordinate amount of time writing specifically about Iceland—probably because many readers wouldn’t expect to see it as the third happiest country in the world, especially after the post-2007 financial collapse. But the report highlights the resilience with which Iceland met the crisis, and attributes that to a high level of social support: Most Icelanders reported having a support system of friends and family to rely on when the economy tanked, and that, the index says, has contributed to much of the country’s state of happiness. Well, that and the fact that the country looks like another planet.

4. Norway



Of the countries on this list, Norway has the highest GDP per capita. So, we’ll concede that maybe money does matter a bit. But like the UN showed in its recent Human Development Report, giving Norway the top spot, there is more to the country that makes it so livable, and its people so happy. The mix of a well-integrated government welfare system and a thriving economy built on responsible management of its natural resources, means that very few are left behind, and the feelings of social support, trust in government, and economic well-being that come from that all contribute to overall happiness.

5. Finland



Finland consistently ranks among the top education systems in the world, occasionally only beaten out by South Korea, Japan, and Singapore. Much of that educational success comes from a widespread reverence for teachers, who are required to have a master’s degree (state-funded) and a pedagogical system that focuses less on quantitative testing and more on experiential learning and equal opportunity. Out of school and having trouble looking for a job? No worries, the government will fund you until you're back on your feet.

6. Canada



Here's yet another reason for all those Americans with one eye on the election, and another on the northern border, to start packing. The only country from the Americas to have made it into the top 10, Canada’s number 6 place is proof that money isn’t everything, as it beats out its neighbor, despite having a GDP per capita $10,000 lower.

7. Netherlands



Besides earning the number 7 spot for happiness, the country also ranked the highest of the top 10 in "standard deviation of happiness." Translation: There is the least difference in satisfaction between the happiest and least happy people in the Netherlands, so while they may not be the giddiest country in the world overall, on average everyone’s pretty content. Vincent Van Gogh was the exception, not the rule.

8. New Zealand


Sure to fuel an already burning rivalry, New Zealand just edges out its neighbor Australia.Traveler readers say, year after year, that Kiwis are a warm, welcoming bunch, but according to the numbers, they are just as friendly to each other, too. Its position comes in large part from “social support”—defined in the report as “having someone to count on during times of trouble”—which in turn leads to a happier populace. We would guess the country’s vast natural wealth—its beaches, vineyards, and mountains—plays a role, too.


9. Australia



We like to think we were on to something when we called Australia our 2016 Destination of the Year. In addition to a healthy work-like balance and "no worries" stress levels, Australians also have one of the highest life expectancies in the world (83 years). It helps that a strong emphasis on physical activity is baked into the education system from a young age. Case in point: This decidedly non-athletic writer spent two very sad and embarrassing childhood years on rugby and cricket pitches tripping over his own feet, while all the local Sydney boys ecstatic on exercise-bred endorphins ran circles around him.10. Sweden




Sweden has slipped a couple of slots, down from number 8 on last year’s rankings, but it still sneaks into the top 10. A high GDP per capita, which it shares with many of its Nordic neighbors, is not the sole reason, however. The introduction of six-hour work days, paid maternity and paternity leave, and free day care means that Swedes have perfected the work-life balance. Turns out feeling productive and rested leads to major smiles. Are you listening, New York?



Edited by Ryrin
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What would make you happier if you are not fortunate enough to live in one of these countries?


For me, it would be access to health care (for everybody), low cost education, economic well being- to include less working hours.

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I'm not sure wealth/income/standard of living makes people always answer that they're unhappy. People adopt to their circumstances and can be happy anyway. 


I live in Sweden, and we have health care that's more or less subsidized. Some things are not paid for, of course. I don't think our health care is as good as private health care in USA (the one people pay insurance for, or pay up front). I know there used to be people who died waiting for heart surgery here in Sweden, just because they had to wait for their turn. That was some years back, and I'm not sure how it is now. Maybe better now, but there might be other problems that I don't actually know much about. I'm grateful that I've not needed any surgery or intensive care so far.


As for 6-hour workdays - that's something that some have tried out, but most people here work 8 hours a day. You get paid according to how much you work (naturally), so there's that drawback. My grandfather valued his free time so much so he took half-retirement a couple of years before age of retirement. He got a cut in income that wasn't neglible, but it was still his choice. Not all would choose the same, I'm sure.

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Politics unfortunately is the deciding factor in the vast majority of things. I don't know where South Africa is on that list, but I'm betting it's quite low. If we could have a system like some of those Northern countries (Norway, Iceland, etc), this could be one of the most amazing countries in the world.

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Happiest African Countries. Top 10.


1. Algeria.

2. Mauritius.

3. Libya

4. Somalia

5. Tunisia

6. Nigeria

7. Zambia

8. Nambia

9. Ethiopia

10. South Africa


On the Global Scale South Africa is 96 out of 156 nations.

Edited by Ryrin
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As Nightstrike said, six hours workday is not common in Sweden. Eight hours is still most common.


We pay a lot of tax but also get a lot for it. Our payed maternity/paternity leave is probably one of the best in the world. Dads are still not at home with their kids as much as the mothers but much more than in most countries.


Daycare is not free but it doesn't cost much.


I'm not surprised that Sweden is sinking in these lists though and I fear we will loose some spots next year too.

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  • 2 weeks later...


I wouldn't mind paying taxes for stuff like that.  There is such an income gap with the haves and the have nots.

I don't mind paying taxes at all.




I'm in a bracket where they suck out lots of money and I don't think even others are getting anything from it, like good health care.

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