Which countries are happiest ?

Happy

Every year the UN compiles a list of the world’s happiest countries. The most recent survey, from 2013, ranked more than 20 countries above the UK. So what puts a smile on faces from Copenhagen to Colchester?

1. Denmark

Maybe it’s because …

The Danes have a superb health service, egalitarian wealth distribution, low-cost or free childcare, 52 weeks’ fully paid parental leave and an admirable community spirit (40% do voluntary work). According to the University of Warwick, they may also be genetically predisposed to happiness.

But more likely …

They don’t expect much excitement out of life. The world’s best preserved bog man, in Moesgård Museum, is visited by more than 160,000 people each year, many of them locals.

2. Norway

Maybe it’s because …

Norway has superb public health care, high life expectancy and the one of the world’s highest per capita GDPs.

But more likely …

The Norwegians have a refreshing approach to rank and honours. In 2008, they actually knighted a penguin. “Nils Olav”, mascot of the King’s Guard, was already a colonel-in-chief.

3. Switzerland

Maybe it’s because …

The Swiss are the healthiest population in the western hemisphere, and have the eighth-lowest rate of depression in the world. Plus they haven’t been at war since 1815.

But more likely …

They can look themselves (or at least their pets) in the eye. It’s illegal to keep just one guinea pig in Switzerland. You must have them in pairs and there is a “rent-a-guinea pig” service to provide companionship for lonely animals in their twilight years.

4. The Netherlands

Maybe it’s because …

Nearly 75% of 15- to 64-year-olds have a paid job, and 82% of people say they have more positive experiences in an average day (pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, etc).

But more likely …

The average Dutch person drinks 76 litres of beer a year, according to the Kirin Beer University. Britons manage just 69.

5. Sweden

Maybe it’s because …

Sweden is the second-best country in the world in which to grow old, according to Global Age Watch.

But more likely …

The Swedes ingeniously export their misery in the form of self-assembly furniture.

6. Canada

Maybe it’s because …

Canada has high average life expectancy, high average incomes, minimal corporate or political corruption and robust social ties.

But more likely …

Canada’s vainglorious neighbour the US comes only 17th in the UN happiness table. That, plus maple syrup and impossibly cute moose, is bound to put a spring in the step.

7. Finland

Maybe it’s because …

Despite a reputation for suicides, depression, alcoholism and cold, dark winters, Finland scores high for education, health, economic dynamism and political stability.

But more likely …

Finns have a superb sense of humour. Here’s a traditional Finnish joke. Two Finns are in a bar. After hours of silence, one man raises his glass to the other and says, “Cheers”. The other man snaps back, “I didn’t come here for conversation”. 

8. Austria

Maybe it’s because …

With average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita of $29,256 versus the OECD average of $23,938, Austria has been only marginally affected by the economic crisis.

But more likely …

The natural endorphin booster that is yodelling is a national pastime. If you want to try it for yourself, the Internet Yodel Course promises you can learn the art in 10 free lessons.

9. Iceland

Maybe it’s because …

Icelanders remain stoically upbeat (73% say they are content, compared with only 50% of western Europeans and 33% of North Americans), despite volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and the 2008 financial collapse.

But more likely …

A majority of Icelanders believe in elves, which gives them a humbler and therefore happier relationship with a world that would otherwise be cold, materialistic and spiritually bankrupt.

10. Australia

Maybe it’s because …

Australians have the fifth-highest per capita income in the world, as well as good education and health services, and economic and political freedoms.

But more likely …

Australians get to watch free kangaroo boxing from their suburban homes while they drink beer and fire up their barbies.

11. Israel

Maybe it’s because …

Despite enduring Arab-Israeli strife, Israel scores highly for wealth, freedom and education. Plus it enjoys a higher life expectancy than Germany or the Netherlands.

But more likely …

The country is a hotbed of innovation. One Israeli startup has developed a suitcase that swells from carry-on to full size using a built-in electric pump. It also turns into a table.

12. Costa Rica

Maybe it’s because …

The highest-scoring developing country in the UN happiness index, Costa Rica, has a 96% literacy rate and life expectancy of 77 years for men and 82 for women.

But more likely …

The country recently had a president called Chinchilla. You’d have to smile, wouldn’t you?

13. New Zealand

Maybe it’s because …

The world’s best place to raise a child, according to HSBC’s Expat Explorer Report, New Zealand scores well for health and education too.

But more likely …

Sheep outnumber humans seven to one. Who could be miserable among so many lamb chops?

14. United Arab Emirates

Maybe it’s because …

According the OECD, the UAE rates highly for life expectancy, job security and quality of family life.

But more likely …

In Dubai, petrol is generally cheaper than drinking water, and the local police force uses Lamborghinis to catch speeding motorists, which sounds like fun.

15. Panama

Maybe it’s because …

Panama has a thriving economy, thanks to a cautious banking sector, as well as strong family ties and a beautiful landscape.

But more likely …

Panamanians can swim in the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean in the same day, all the while devising palindromes such as, “A man, a plan, a canal – Panama!”

16. Mexico

Maybe it’s because …

Despite low incomes, poverty and rampant corruption, Mexicans are happier than their North American neighbours, possibly because they know money is not the secret of happiness.

But more likely …

In Oaxaca, a special Christmas festival celebrates the radish, typifying the Mexican attitude to life. It’s the little things that make us truly happy.

17. US

Maybe it’s because …

Americans are increasingly realising that riches aren’t the same as happiness. While 43% of Americans surveyed in last year’s LifeTwist Study said that they’ve experienced a financial setback, more than 50% said that such experiences have helped them realise what’s truly important in life.

But more likely …

One in seven Americans has at least 10 credit cards, thus demonstrating a deludedly upbeat attitude to the future.

18. Ireland

Maybe it’s because …

Ireland has a strong sense of community – 95% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need.

But more likely …

The country is snake-free and lacks several species common elsewhere in Europe, such as weasels and polecats, any one of which would shoot up your trousers and administer a nasty nip given half the chance. All of which is good for national morale.

19. Luxembourg

Maybe it’s because …

Average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is $35,635 per year, much higher than the OECD average. And life expectancy is 81 years.

But more likely …

Though surrounded by overbearing giants like France and Germany, the Grand Duchy has retained Luxembourgish as an official language. Which means the natives can be as rude as they like to tourists without losing their custom.

20. Venezuela

Maybe it’s because …

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the Venezuelan government decided to keep investing in social welfare. The result? In 2010 some 84% of Venezuelans reported they were “happy” or “very happy”.

But more likely …

At Christmas the streets in Caracas are blocked off so the people can rollerblade to church. Now, that’s a society that knows how to have a good time.

21. Belgium

Maybe it’s because …

Belgians have a healthy work-life balance, along with a GDP per capita of $49,888.

But more likely …

Belgium produces 220,000 tonnes of chocolate per year. This amounts to 22kg of chocolate per inhabitant.

22. UK

Maybe it’s because …

The feelgood factors of the 2012 Olympics and Diamond Jubilee, according to the Office for National Statistics, may have encouraged Britons to revise their life satisfaction upwards despite the effects of recession.

But more likely …

Britons could never admit to being less happy than the French (25) or Germans (26).

Download the 2013 UN World Happiness Report here.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Stuart Jeffries, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 26th November 2014 13.17 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

 

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