World's happiest countries
Pop culture does an admirable job of convincing people that good looks, wealth, and power are the keys to unlocking our happiest selves. But research instead shows that measuring what creates happiness comes down to a few, much more basic things—like clean drinking water, affordable health care, and a healthy work-life balance.
Every year since 2012, the United Nations publishes a “World Happiness Report” ranking 156 countries from the happiest to least happy. The score is based on responses from adults representing all walks of life to the “Cantril Ladder” question, a prompt that asks participants to evaluate the quality of their lives on a scale from 0 to 10 with 0 representing the worst possible life (or bottom rung,) and 10 representing the best (or top rung).
The report tends to zero in each year on a specific element of happiness for further review. In 2018, the report dove deep into issues surrounding migration and explored how migration affects happiness levels for those left behind, those doing to the migrating, and residents in host countries where migrants end up. For 2019, the World Happiness Report zeroes in on themes around happiness and the community. Specifically, researchers focus on how technology, social norms, governments, cultural shifts, and conflict have caused perceptions of happiness to evolve.
Besides revealing the quality of lives of its participants, the report factors in six key variables including gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption. Then, researchers went a step further to explore the connection between government and happiness; the effects of prosocial behavior; and how information technology has transformed how we communicate with each other and become informed.
From this data, Stacker has compiled the top-50 happiest countries from the list, classified for this gallery from least happy (#50) to happiest (#1). Read on to see which countries are home to some of the happiest people on the planet.
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- Happiness score: 6.028
Situated just south of Colombia at the top of South America, Ecuador is a laid-back tropical nation with stunning scenery and diverse wildlife. In recent years, a social movement called buen vivir (from the Quechuan “sumak kawsay”) has grabbed the attention of its people, incorporating community-focused and environmentally sound practices into policymaking. When the country revised its Constitution in 2008, this philosophy heavily influenced its approach, which included acknowledging indigenous rights for the first time.
- Happiness score: 6.046
According to Greek mythology, this Mediterranean island-country was the birthplace of Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love. With long life expectancies rivaling that of fellow first-world countries and a relatively high GDP, the country—and all its breathtaking views—has a lot to offer its residents. The country finds itself toward the bottom of the list mainly for its history of corruption; and for the long-running, separatist movement in Northern Cyprus where ethnic Turks are concentrated and seek independence (or to officially become part of Turkey), while Greek-speaking residents keep to the south.
- Happiness score: 6.070
After a 20th century fraught with conflict (Soviet occupation in 1944, under communist rule from 1948 to 1989), today's Romanians seem to grow happier by the moment. The country is up four spots from #52 on the 2018 Happiness Report, and #57 in 2017. Free elections, advances in industry, and improved relations with the rest of the world (including becoming part of NATO and the European Union) have only bolstered Romanians' resiliency.
- Happiness score: 6.086
Expanding for 2,200 miles along the southern region of South America, Argentina is a hugely diverse nation with varying climates, geographies, and cultures. Its capital of Buenos Aires is a modern, cosmopolitan city and the surrounding countryside is full of natural resources, high literacy rates, and stable economic indicators. In 2017, Argentina was listed as “very high” on the United Nation's Human Development Index (HDI).
- Happiness score: 6.100
This tiny, self-declared independent country ties with Malta and Jordan as the world's 20th-safest country in the world. The country is also in the top 50 for doing business in and comes in at #13 among the best 190 countries for starting a business (the corporate tax rate is just 10%).
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- Happiness score: 6.105
This Central American nation sits directly above Costa Rica and is full of gorgeous beaches, lush green jungles, and a low ecological footprint. In the years following the region’s brutal wars in the '80s, it became recognized as the safest country in Central America (and the second safest in all of Latin America), causing tourism to grow exponentially. Since then, an uprising in early 2018 disrupted its appeal to travelers; it’s unclear how the current political climate will impact the country.
- Happiness score: 6.118
Slovenia's ski slopes, lakes, and culture are world-famous; and the country's attributes help to make it one of the happiest places in the world. In addition, Slovenia ties with Singapore as the best country in the world for children, largely for its ability to educate its young while preventing teen pregnancies.
- Happiness score: 6.125
Although the drug cartel has given it a bad rap, Colombia is a richly diverse country with legions of cheerful, friendly citizens. Named the third-happiest country on NEF's Happy Planet Index, the Colombian spirit is perhaps best represented by its famous singer Jorge Celedón’s hit, "Que Bonita Es Esta Vida" ("How beautiful is this life").
- Happiness score: 6.149
Located northeast of Poland on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, Lithuania enjoys low unemployment rates and healthy levels of work-life balance. Famous for its Cepelinai potato-meat-dumplings, the country was the happiest of all the Baltic nations on the World Happiness Report and was also ranked fifth in the world on the Climate Change Performance Index.
- Happiness score: 6.174
This Eastern European country, which was once a key destination along the Silk Road trade route, gained independence in 1991 after the fall of Soviet rule. Today, its citizen beginning to enjoy additional freedoms: Recently elected President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is moving the country away from authoritarianism, freeing previously jailed dissidents and establishing fair trial systems.
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