With the federal government (almost) up and running again, men’s skinny jeans finally dying the death they deserved, and access to a neverending Netflix movie queue, it’s easy to assume Americans must be 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. barely cracked the top 20. It turns out, to truly be happy these days, you might consider moving to Europe. The countries of northern Europe, in particular, round out 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, that’s just the way the Dutch like it. Known for its legendary artists, vintage windmills, chill coffee shops, and quirky architecture, it’s 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 to put a finger on the pulse of what makes The Netherlands the fifth happiest country in the world.
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 version of Norway with the same 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 is a beautiful, quirky, hard-partying capital city with a legendary nightlife scene is just the cherry on top.
Another Scandinavian country to crack the top five, it’s easy to see why Norway’s people are among the world’s happiest. It’s arguably the most naturally beautiful country in the world with a long list of off-the-charts, bucket-list-worthy adventure opportunities around every corner. Almost any time of year is ideal for witnessing the Northern Lights; the Arctic Circle is home to a long list of snow-centric activities; Svalbard is the unofficial “Polar Bear Capital of the World;” and nearly every waterfront city and small town appears to have been custom-designed for an Instagram-worthy photoshoot.
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 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.
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