Now that “lockdowns” are well behind us, subscription boxes for the most stylish drip are now a thing, and true crime podcasts are always in abundance, it’s easy to assume that Americans are the happiest people in the world. Not so, according to one report out of Columbia University. In fact, among the 156 countries ranked in this year’s World Happiness Report, the U.S. is No. 16. It turns out that in 2022, the world’s happiest people reside in Europe. The countries of northern Europe, in particular, take three of the five happiest in the world. Here’s why.
Held against the more rugged and adventure-centric countries of Scandinavia, The Netherlands seems downright demure (the Red Light District notwithstanding). However, this is the way the Dutch like it. Known for its legendary artists, vintage windmills, chill coffee shops, and quirky architecture, The Netherlands a country that appreciates stopping to smell the tulips. Cycling the streets of Amsterdam along the city’s famed canals is a meditative experience unlike almost any other in Europe. It’s the ideal way not only to see the city, but also to put a finger on the pulse of what makes The Netherlands the fifth happiest country in the world.
With stunningly scenic mountains, charming lakeside villages, incredibly delicious cheeses, fashionably worldly cities, and a unique form of democratic governance, it’s not that hard to figure out why Switzerland made it into the top five this year. For a nation with four official languages (French, German, Italian, and Romansch), Switzerland’s collaborative system helps to maintain social harmony and multicultural national pride. Even though Switzerland is a relatively small country, there’s so much to explore within its (open) borders, from the towering Swiss Alps to the stylishly diplomatic streets of Geneva, and from the charmingly cosmopolitan neighborhoods of Zürich to the Mediterranean-esque lakeshore of Lugano. With so much natural beauty and rich culture packed into such a small country, we can see why the Swiss people are so happy.
Iceland has been on everybody’s “hot list” for several years now, enough so that it’s being loved to death. The country’s residents — known for their generosity, hospitality, and go-with-the-flow attitude — appear to be taking it all in stride. For adventurous travelers, the nation is like a condensed island that overflows with eye-popping landscapes that will humble even the most well-traveled visitor. Stunning volcanoes, waterfalls, fjords, and thermal features worthy of a Hollywood backdrop dot every corner of the island. Reykjavik being a beautiful, quirky, hard-partying capital city with a legendary nightlife scene is just the cherry on top.
Denmark’s people are among the world’s happiest for many of the same reasons as the No. 1 country. At its core, the country values hygge, a deep appreciation for the simplicity in life, food, design, art, and pretty much everything that’s interwoven into the fabric of Danish culture. From a social perspective, the country is also a bastion of sustainability, progressive politics, and a near-perfect work-life balance. The capital city of Copenhagen is cozy, vibrant, quirky, artistic, and just plain fun.
Scroll through the #finland hashtag on Instagram and it’s easy to see why the country’s citizens officially rank as the happiest in the world for the second year in a row. With a long history of beautiful design, a burgeoning culinary scene, people who appreciate the simplicity in life, and some of the most eye-popping scenery on the planet including near-daily occurrences of the Northern Lights, how could they not be? To the south, the capital city Helsinki anchors the country with some of Europe’s most interesting nightlife, including quirky bars and clubs packed with impossibly beautiful people. Plus, Finnish Lapland to the north is literally home to Santa Claus.
We hope this little list of ours put a big smile on your face. If you’re looking for more travel ideas to boost your own happiness score, check out this list of our favorite hot springs, our comparison of Cancún and Puerto Vallarta, and our Medellín (Colombia) travel guide. Wherever you head next, cheers to safe and happy travels!
The cover photo was taken by Ninara, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Flickr.
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