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The Happiest Countries in the World - A Top 10 Countdown

By Edited Oct 6, 2016 8 26

The Happiest Countries in the World

The Happiest Country in the World is a very desirable designation to have for any nation. Evaluated annually by the United Nations, the World Happiness Report measures the overall happiness of a country’s citizens. The factors that are considered include GDP per capita (how much money the average person makes each year) and life expectancy. There are however some less numerical considerations, such as having someone to count on, freedom to make choices, being free from corruption, and the generosity and kindness of citizens to one another.

The advantage of being named the happiest country has obvious benefits. The happier a nation is, the more it implies this nation is progressing, is a decent place to live and raise a family, has excellent prospects for employment or business creation, and that it is a less stressful place to live. Furthermore, you can expect to be healthier and better educated than in unhappier countries. Let’s evaluate the Top 10 happiest countries on Earth.

Notable Countries Not in the Top 10

Israel, Costa Rica and New Zealand just missed out on a top ten finish in the 2010-2012 UN Happiness Report. Most notably was New Zealand, which had dropped down from well inside the top ten a few years prior. The United States sits at number seventeen, having also fallen down the list in recent years. The United Kingdom edged in at rank twenty two, Brazil at twenty four, with Germany and France not far behind. Highly developed countries that seem remarkably unhappy include Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Estonia.

10. Australia

The great land down under has the world’s 12th largest economy and some of the richest average citizens to go with it. Health, education and freedom all rank highly, and Australia is known for its excellent civil and political rights. Being a member of numerous supranational organisations such as ANZUS and the G20, business opportunities are also excellent, especially with China, New Zealand and the United States. Fantastic sunshine and warm beaches coupled with rainforests, deserts, wildlife and heaps of room to move make Australia worthy of a tenth place finish. 

Sydney, Australia
Credit: Hai Linh Truong

9. Iceland

Tiny Iceland is known by the outside world for being cold. Truth be told, it is a smart and sensible nation with rich Norse heritage (and yes, it can sometimes be pretty cold). Low taxes and an entirely free market economy make doing business here very desirable, which brings a lot of money with it. Universal healthcare and education creates healthy, smart citizens. A recent financial crisis threatened to destabilise the nation, but it was handled adequately and the economy has since recovered.  Due to its climate and location, Iceland’s population matches that of a small metropolitan area, so ample individual space contributes to a ninth place ranking.

Credit: Andreas Tille

8. Austria

Austria remains one of the richest countries (per capita) on Earth, and the democratically elected government is one of the fairest. The capital, Vienna, is consistently ranked as one of the best cities in which to live in the world. The country has embraced the European Union and the advantages that come with it. Renewable energy generates over 62% of Austria’s needs, and compulsory, inexpensive education along with publicly funded social healthcare keeps the citizens happy. With a generally mild alpine climate and fantastic access to some of the greatest scenery, Austria is no surprise at rank number eight.

Hallstatt, Austria
Credit: Nick Csakany

7. Finland

The great Republic of Finland straddles the top of the world and boasts a very well developed, welfare style economy. Its citizens are wealthy even by European standards, and education and health are taken very seriously and purposefully. Finland maintains a sense of neutrality and culture quite unique in the world, its proud identity influenced by its complex history. A cool climate and mostly sensible government help to keep the country calm and business prospects high, and corruption remains especially low. Finland is worthy of joining its Nordic friends in the top ten happiest countries.

Credit: Pentti Rautio

6. Canada

Oh Canada. As with others in the top ten, Canada maintains a high level of personal freedom and government transparency (though not without its incidents). As a member of the G8, G10 and G20, the economy is world renowned and only growing stronger – much is due to a warm relationship with the United States to the south and opportunities that come with that. There is a distinct lack of overcrowding and it is one of the most naturally beautiful nations on Earth. Excellent foreign relations plus access to education and universal healthcare help to make Canada’s populous the sixth happiest in the world.

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Vancouver, Canada
Credit: tpsdave

5. Sweden

The Kingdom of Sweden is world-renowned for being a socially equal, intelligent country. Low population density and brilliant scenery are the hallmarks of Swedish land, and it takes economic advantage of its membership in the European Union. Economic competitiveness is also very high, so business prospects and average incomes are among the best in the world. Free healthcare and education, like many others in the top ten, means people are comparatively stress free and well looked after, and are noticeably prosperous because of this. Immigration remains a tough social issue which needs to be dealt with correctly for Sweden to maintain its position at fifth.

Stockholm, Sweden
Credit: Guillermo

4. Netherlands

Being a founding member of the European Union, the OECD and NATO, The Netherlands is a big player in the world economy and a centre of social justice. A hugely intelligent population based around great education, prosperous business and liberal ideals, the Dutch are wealthy and happy overall. An OECD study even ranked The Netherlands as the happiest nation in 2011 due to its exceptional standard of living, even for its poorer citizens. The port of Rotterdam is the cornerstone of much of Europe’s juggernaut economy due to its location, and a fourth place finish is well deserved.

Credit: Eus Nieuwenhuizen

3. Switzerland

The federal republic of Switzerland is known the world over for its neutrality and banking systems. By some measures, its citizens are unsurprisingly the wealthiest in the world bar none, and also on average live the longest after the Japanese. Tourism plays a huge part in the economy and culture, and both Geneva and Zurich rank alongside Vienna, Melbourne and Vancouver as the greatest cities in the world to live in. Health (although quite expensive) and education as always rank exceedingly highly, and energy is generated almost entirely without carbon emissions. For years Switzerland’s people have been among the happiest on Earth.

Credit: Jeff Wilcox

2. Norway

Norway seems to get just about everything right. It is the most equal country in the world, healthcare is free, the industry and finance based economy is exceptionally competitive and well regarded, and the country is beautiful beyond measure. Human rights, even those of criminals, are fiercely protected by the state, on the ideal that a freedom breeds happiness. Corruption is nearly non-existent, thus the citizens for the most part trust their leaders, and foreign relations are in excellent standing. Norway’s healthy, intelligent and long-living people should be proud of their second place ranking.

Credit: Sveter

What Makes a Country Happy?

Before we reach number 1, is it possible to establish what makes a country’s people happy? Based entirely on the attributes of the countries above, for a population to be happy they should focus on some key areas. Affordable or free healthcare and education for everyone is extremely important. A country’s leaders should be sensible and trustworthy, and promote freedom for people and in business, while providing reasonable security as well as privacy.

Overcrowding seems to be a huge barrier to overall happiness, as does corruption and threat to self. Relationships with other prosperous nations, as well as helping those who are less fortunate goes a long way, and enacting policies that keep the wealth gap small is very important also. In the twenty first century, a forward-thinking citizenship is necessary, taking in to consideration carbon neutrality and lessening our impact on the environment. Curiously, it would also seem that the cooler the climate, the happier generally a populous seems to be. I suppose heat can be quite the frustration.

1. Denmark

The Danes are the most content people on the planet. Setting an example for every other nation, Denmark’s excellent universal healthcare and entirely free education system produce intelligent, long living citizens without creating huge personal debt. Their commitment to environmental sustainability and a carbon neutral economy is envied worldwide. Freedom to do business also plays a huge role in keeping the country economically sound and desirable, and joining the European Union has provided huge benefits as well as being a member of NATO. Income inequality matches that of Norway, and the minimum wage is also the highest in the world. A fantastic mixture of security, freedom, potential to prosper and national togetherness make Denmark’s people the happiest on Earth.

Credit: alaskahokie
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Jun 17, 2014 12:57am
I'd agree with the overcrowding point. Taiwan is in many ways an excellent place to be - fairly prosperous, pretty safe, good health care, lots of mountains for hiking etc - but it's also one of the most crowded countries on Earth. Very few people have gardens and many people can see/hear/smell exactly what their neighbors are doing. Japan is just as bad, if not worse, and the cost of living is very high. The Philippines is overcrowded in the sense that the masses of poor are rapidly destroying the forests because they need to grow food.
Jun 17, 2014 2:02am
Exactly right about The Philippines. And this doesn't even compare to places like Bangladesh or Sub-Saharan Africa.
Jun 20, 2014 10:01pm
very interesting. Australia is a big country, and it always surprises me when people say they traveled around Australia in ten to twelve weeks. To be honest, all they would have seen are the bitumen roadsides.

Mum and Dad took fourteen months to go around the first time zig zagging back and forth and still did not see everything. So went around again last year to see a bit more (four months) this time and yes there is still more to see.
You can drive 300k's between towns with nothing but bush, flora, fauna, but it is the unexpected views and scenes that keep you motivated. Listen to other travelers as to the best places to see. Never stick to your original plans, be prepared to investigate other options. Great article
Jun 20, 2014 10:18pm
Thanks a lot. I lived in Melbourne for a while and you couldn't be more right about the distances and lack of features between towns and cities. Just huge expanses of essentially nothing - quite different from New Zealand. Cheers for reading :)
Jun 20, 2014 10:17pm
This comment has been deleted.
Jun 26, 2014 11:41am
I can understand why highly developed countries seem to have unhappier populations. It might have something to do with a very fast-paced lifestyle.
Jun 26, 2014 2:30pm
This comment has been deleted.
Jun 26, 2014 2:31pm
Absolutely, or at least the inability to lead a comfortable fast-paced lifestyle. I was reading an article on IB just yesterday about the physical effects stress can have on the body.
Jun 26, 2014 12:44pm
Freedom, care for the well-being of the people and a cool climate, I'd agree these things would make me happy. Great list, and makes sense. I maybe need to move.
Jun 26, 2014 2:26pm
Where would you think you'd prefer? One of the above perhaps?
Jun 26, 2014 8:51pm
I would have to say Sweden or The Netherlands. I like that the population is intelligent. I prefer being around smart people, makes things easier, less offensive and less violent. And, of course, I appreciate the fact that they see the value of people being taken care of and education.
Jun 26, 2014 10:45pm
Couldn't have said it better myself
Jun 29, 2014 3:37am
nice to see Canada is up there...great read...thumbing.
Jun 29, 2014 6:31pm
Yea no surprise for me, what a country Canada is.
Jul 3, 2014 7:27pm
I think Austria might beat Canada (being a Canadian, I state this). Healthcare and education are the hallmarks of a great country. Oh and a good sense of humour.
Jul 3, 2014 7:41pm
Are you a little unhappy?
Jul 3, 2014 7:51pm
Ah, you know, Canada isn't the greatest place for women. The Nordic countries and Europe are better - particularly for women in business or the financial sector. I'm good, but I have to constantly prove myself worthy (compared to my male counterparts). In my area of Canada it's still a boys club, but hey, it depends on the demographic. I think (hope) the younger guys are treating women better (than I've experienced) in Canada.
Jul 3, 2014 7:55pm
Hmmm, that's unfortunate. I wasn't aware this was such an issue there. Now that you mention it though, I guess it's not too dissimilar here in New Zealand. Still, compared to say, Iran, we all do OK :)
Jul 4, 2014 2:50pm
I think Australia is nice place to live.
Jul 5, 2014 6:22pm
I lived in Melbourne for a while myself, I can see why most Australians would be generally happy. Those summers though...
Jul 4, 2014 9:51pm
When I was younger I had dreamed of living in Norway because of a book I read.
Jul 5, 2014 6:22pm
Do you think you'll ever move there, or have you already?
Jul 4, 2014 11:48pm
As an Aussie I will be happier when the current government has been dumped.
Jul 6, 2014 8:18pm
Yea Tony Abbott is...different. Perhaps this will interest you:

Jul 5, 2014 6:23pm
This comment has been deleted.
Jul 8, 2014 10:28am
These are some of the least racially diverse countries in the Western world. Interesting to note.
Jul 8, 2014 11:42pm
I think Australia is the best place to live.
India is also a good option for me.
Jul 8, 2014 11:46pm
Are you from India originally? What are the aspects you think make it a good option?
Jul 9, 2014 12:07am

Yeah, I am basically from India.
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