Every year, The World Happiness Report is conducted and sent out to measure which countries are the happiest. They take into consideration a plethora of data, such as citizens’ general satisfaction with life, access to clean water, and other factors that would affect someone’s quality of life. This year, the report took into consideration the COVID-19 emergency, factoring in the way countries handled the crisis.
While every country has its problems, the top 10 countries on this year’s report were not a huge surprise (other than Germany, which is usually listed around #15 on the list, and made #7 this year). What is the secret to happiness? There may never be a concrete answer to that, but these countries clearly know something that others can learn from. Here are the top 10 happiest nations in the world, and what we can learn from their cultures:
Austria usually falls between 7–10 in the rankings, so they clearly know a thing or two about happiness. They have a high average life expectancy and wages are generous, but the culture also has a lot to do with their high placement on the global list. Austrians love to take bike rides, which is powerful for a couple of reasons—being outside increases happiness, and so does exercise. Endorphins are heightened while participating in either activity, and bike rides bring them together. Austrian culture is joyful for many reasons, but their love of biking is something we could all take inspiration from.
9. New Zealand
Anyone who has seen Lord of the Rings knows how beautiful this island nation is. The country is led by a progressive woman who prioritizes raising income, protecting the environment, and leading with empathy. It’s no wonder the country is always in the top 10. The culture of New Zealanders themselves is also one of joy, sincerity, and a laid-back attitude about life. Being genuine can be a huge stress-reducer, and letting loose by deciding to forgo uptight formalities is a great way to enjoy life. Make like a New Zealander and let go of the stress that comes from trying to live “the right way.” Be yourself, and go with the flow—it clearly works.
This Nordic nation fell a few spots due to the pandemic, as it usually makes the top 5, but making the eighth spot in the world is not too shabby. This northern country is known for the northern lights, vikings, and reindeer, but there is more to it than that. Besides the high incomes, trust in the government, and social support, Norwegians enjoy a lifestyle shaped around koselig— essentially living slow and in tune with the seasons. Studies have consistently shown that living more intentionally, and spending time with nature improves well being and reduces anxiety. This is making a big difference for the Norwegians, so consider living a slow life like they do.
For the first time, Germany made the top ten list this year! This can be largely attributed to the social stability, good financial standing, and the government’s handling of the pandemic. There is something to be said for the German culture though, because happiness seems to start there. Germans really enjoy having a good time. Throwing parties and attending festivals is something that Germans do best, and it’s honestly inspiring to see an entire culture celebrate, well, celebration. From Oktoberfests to karneval to Fastnacht, these national past times are reminders that celebrations really do make for a happier life.
Known for being an environmentally friendly country, this mountainous nation is also home to a high GDP, an emphasis on social equality, and a generous amount of family PTO. Sweden is a wonderful place to enjoy life, with lagom being at the heart of the lifestyle—the art of moderation and balance. Swedes believe in having a healthy work-life balance, and it’s at the root of their high levels of happiness. They don’t work too much, or too little. They spend time with their loved ones, hobbies, favorite nature spaces, and selves. This balance is something everyone could grow joy from.
This country enjoys a high GDP, level of trust in the government, and egalitarian values. They are also consistently ranked among the top happiest countries in the world, and is considered to be the best place in the world to raise a child. The secret to their success and happiness? Independence. The Netherlands is a country where independence and individuality are prized above just about everything else. Because of this, parents aren’t as strict with their children (and focus instead on cultivating a loving relationship rather than unquestioned rule), LGBTQIA+ people are safe, art thrives, and people eat chocolate sprinkles on their toast for breakfast (that last bit is definitely true!). Being who you are isn’t something to be criticized among the Dutch. No one cares what you wear or what you make yourself for lunch, because they value being independent. Life experience is valued above work experience, fashion is at the cutting edge, and the people are the fifth happiest in the entire world. It sounds like everyone else could use a bit of this do-what-you-want attitude in life.
Switzerland is known for ski slopes in the Alps, good chocolate, and those classic meadows in the high mountains. It’s also a nation filled with very happy people. The booming economy, democratic rule, and priority of education has really helped the Swiss people achieve a high level of well-being, but their culture is filled with nuances that only add to it. An appreciation of gardening is one of them. The classically Swiss love of cultivating and caring for nature is something that also adds to their happiness. Slowing down to work with one’s hands, and spend time with nature, increases well-being. It’s clear that if more people gardened and took the time to care for plant life, we’d all gain some of that Swiss happiness too.
This country is home to famous fairytale writers, seaside villages, and artist colonies. It’s no surprise that this free-wheeling nation by the ocean always makes the top 3 on this list. Besides the reliably Nordic hallmark features of having welfare benefits, a strong democracy, and low crime rates, the Danish culture holds its own in terms of cultivating joy. The Danes are community minded, and that makes life better for everyone around them (including themselves). Despite having 9 political parties, none of them support getting rid of any welfare benefits (including their free college education), and Danes consistently report wanting to pay their taxes to help others. This could be seen as selfless, or maybe it’s practical (because what goes around comes around in liberated countries like this). Either way, this community-mindedness sits at the center of Danish joy, and it’s something we could all learn from.
Oh, Iceland—Land of Fire and Ice. This island in the north is always among the happiest countries in the world, and it’s impossible to not see why. The land itself is stunning, and the country boasts almost 100% geothermal energy powering their homes. Their water is the cleanest and purest in the world, and equality is prioritized above everything else in government. The Icelandic culture itself is really special as well. The connection to place in Iceland seems to be the key to their seemingly permanent joy that the country experiences. Iceland is small, and so those who live there take a great sense of pride in being from the country. Icelanders support others from the region, judgement is at a minimum, and citizens embrace their place in this Nordic paradise. It truly is a place filled with open hearts and warmth, but also a strong sense of place. People from Iceland know the land, and they’re proud to be from there. Cultivating a sense of place helps build community, sense of self, and connection to the natural world- all things that increase happiness.
As usual, Finland is ranked as being the happiest country in the world. The free education, welfare benefits, free healthcare, equality, and thriving nature has a huge impact on overall wellbeing. People like to live places where they are looked out for, and free to be themselves. Finland gives people that. On top of that, Finnish culture itself is one of prioritizing relaxation. The Finns are famous for the sauna, and for summer lake cottages. Finns don’t just appreciate relaxation—they make time for it. They shape their houses, vacations, work weeks, and mindsets around it. It’s not considered an added bonus if one gets to relax. It’s considered an intrinsic part of life. Taking the time to pamper themselves, connected with their bodies, and clear their minds has obviously done wonders for the wellbeing as a country. Let’s all learn how to incorporate more of that into our days, without that classically capitalist guilt.
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Photo: Emily Iris Degn