Every year the United Nations measures the quality of life for citizens around the world through surveys and data analysis. The same 13 countries have dominated the top of the list since the reporting began in 2012. What makes these countries the happiest in the world? All possess a winning formula of good governance, strong sense of community, respect for fellow citizens, and general high quality of life.
Sweden is one of five Nordic countries that consistently sits near the top of the Happiness Report, highlighting the high level of satisfaction found in this region of the world. To experience what makes this country happy, simply visit a coffee shop: Sweden is one of the three biggest coffee consumers in the world. A sense of community is strengthened through the tradition known as fika, loosely translated into "break time," when locals meet over coffee to catch up, discuss news, and eat pastries. Try taking a fika at historic Vete-Katten in Stockholm, a local sipping spot founded in 1928.
Australia is the sixth largest country in the world by area. It has very low levels of pollution, high levels of civic engagement, and tight-knit locals. The popular Australian barbecue brings everyone together; most national parks, outdoor spaces, and other places where people gather offer free or coin-operated grills. Travelers without Australian friends to host them can join the XXXX Brewery and BBQ tour to meet locals at breweries and try a variety of meat and seafood dishes. Or eat with a view during the BBQ sunset cruise on Lake Kununurra in West Australia. (Related: Happiness Is ... Being an Aussie)
The island country of New Zealand has only been occupied by humans for about 800 years. From the Blue Mountains to the wild penguins on South Island, there are many beautiful sights to lift locals’ spirits in this thriving ecological paradise. Today it has low levels of pollution and is known as one of the most biodiverse islands in the world. New Zealanders take pride in their local ecology and work hard to protect it. Don't miss the chance to visit the volcano, ancient Maori sites, and craters at Tongariro and Whanaguni National Parks.
Citizens living in the Netherlands report the highest rates of physical activity in the world. The country takes pride in its 20,000 miles of bicycle lanes for safe travel, and the capital city of Amsterdam is considered to be one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. Rent a bicycle to try the country’s preferred method of transportation and get some fun exercise during a trip. Either map out a bicycle trip around Amsterdam independently or hire a local guide to show you around the city.
Vast and expansive Canada is the second largest country in the world by total area, stretching northward into the Arctic Circle. There’s plenty to explore in this spacious and culturally diverse country. In parts of the northwest along the old Trans-Canada Highway, visitors can learn the art of mushing during winter’s dogsledding season. If you prefer two feet on the ground, hike the slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in Banff National Park or Canada’s many national parks.
Steam your worries away in a traditional Finnish sauna, a revered custom throughout the nation. Despite a population of only 5.2 million people, there are some 3.3 million saunas found throughout the country. You can find them along the side of lake houses, office buildings, and even Parliament. (Related: Finland’s Sauna Obsession)
If you’re visiting Norway, rated one of the best countries in the world for its gorgeous landscape, take advantage of the outdoor spaces. You can pitch your tent anywhere you’d like while hiking through Norway’s magnificent fjords. In the summer months, try climbing Mount Skala, one of the tallest mountains in the country, for an exhilarating view of local mountains and glaciers. (Take a look at these other top 10 summer experiences in Norway.)
Iceland surprised many people when it remained in the World Happiness Report’s top 10 after the 2008 economic recession. According to Helliwell, the recession “brought the communities closer together" and helped spur a new era of tourism. Now Iceland Air offers cheap flights to Europe, with extended layovers in the capital city of Reykjavík. Once in the country, travelers find indoor market halls and outdoor swimming pools in the capital city, as well as many easily accessible national parks. If you have time, take a drive along Ring Road to see the island's volcanoes, beaches, and other outdoor landmarks.
The world’s happiest country in the 2015 rankings, Switzerland is known for being a prosperous nation with magnificent ski slopes and rich chocolate. Switzerland’s thriving outdoor spaces also afford a healthy lifestyle for its citizens: The country boasts the lowest obesity rates in Europe. Discover some of the wild spaces in Switzerland by canyoning, kayaking, or paragliding in Interlaken to explore the vast mountainous landscape.
This isn’t the first time that Denmark has been named the happiest country in the world. Denmark offers an abundance of free public services, such as health care and education, and it prides itself on its strong sense of social life and community. You can try visiting the "Royal Copenhagen Christmas Tables" exhibition to learn more about hygge, or a cultural identification loosely defined as feeling cozy in the company of friends and family over a meal.