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A woman rides a bike on her way to work in heavy snow in Copenhagen, Denmark.

A woman rides a bike to work in Copenhagen, Denmark, the world's happiest country according to a new United Nations survey.

Photograph by Joachim Adrian, Polfoto/AP

Roff Smith

for National Geographic

Published September 9, 2013

Denmark is the happiest country in the world, followed by Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden, according to the 2013 World Happiness Report, released today by Columbia University's Earth Institute.

Sponsored by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the global survey took place between 2010 and 2012 and ranked the happiness levels of people in 156 countries, using such criteria as wealth, health, freedom to make life choices, having someone to count on in times of trouble, freedom from corruption, and the generosity of fellow citizens.

The U.S. came in 17th overall in the happiness stakes, just behind Mexico, while Britain finished in 22nd place, Russia in 68th, China a gloomy 93rd, and Iraq 105th. War-torn Syria came in an unsurprising 148th place, while a handful of West African countries seemed to be unhappier still, with Benin at 155th and neighboring Togo bringing up the rear at 156th..

(See "Photo Gallery: Happiness Hotspots.")

According to the UN report, there are some common themes in the happiest places on Earth, including:

1. It (mostly) pays to be rich.

This may be the obvious one. Money may not buy happiness, but it sure doesn't hurt, as even the most cursory glance down the list of the world's happiest countries reveals. They are all expensive places to live.

They also have high taxes, spend a lot of money on social welfare programs, and enjoy good health care. There are no wars in these places. Or malaria. And very little corruption.

2. More money means more problems.

On the other hand, warns Jeffrey Sachs, the director of Columbia's Earth Institute and one of the authors of the report, riches can cause stresses and problems of their own. In his introduction to the report, Sachs cites the "persistent creation of new material 'wants' through the incessant advertising of products using powerful imagery and other means of persuasion."

Sachs warns that an advertising industry worth around $500 billion per year is "preying on psychological weaknesses and unconscious urges," and therefore making us less happy. Unhealthy products like cigarettes, sugar, and trans-fats are being pushed to our detriment, he wrote.

Such stresses and disillusionment may account for why the overall happiness figures for the (otherwise happy) industrialized West have been declining, while countries in developing regions, especially in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, have been becoming happier overall, Sachs noted. Of the three biggest gainers in overall happiness, two (Angola at 61st and Zimbabwe at 103rd) were in Africa. Albania (at 62nd) is the third.

3. Being poor in Europe can be particularly rough.

Bulgaria may be a member of the European Union, but it is by far its poorest member and is burdened by endemic corruption. A recent poll showed that as much as 5 percent of the population is planning to leave their homeland and emigrate, mainly to the U.K. and Germany.

Bulgaria's unhappiness quotient, as measured by the survey, puts the country in a deeply unhappy 144th place—behind Afghanistan (143rd), Yemen (142nd), and Iraq (105th). Even Zimbabweans, whose country has endured an average inflation rate of nearly 1,200 percent for the past decade, seem considerably more contented than Bulgarians, coming in at 103rd on the list.

4. Nice weather doesn't correlate to happiness.

Forget palm trees and crystalline beaches, azure seas, and thoughts of plump mangoes falling into your lap—such things may be okay for holiday dreaming, but lovely weather doesn't seem to cut it when it comes to making us happy on a day-to-day basis.

With the lone exception of Australia (coming in at number 10), all of the world's top-ten happiest countries have long, bleak winters. Iceland, which edges out Australia at number 9 on the list, barely sees the sun at all. In contrast, Mauritius, a favorite honeymoon and holiday destination for the happy folk of northern Europe, is at 67th on the happy list, and Jamaica in the sunny Caribbean languishes in 75th place.

5. Happy people ride bicycles—by choice.

Denmark and the Netherlands (the happiest and the fourth-happiest countries on Earth) are renowned for being the world's most bicycle-friendly nations; the other most-happy countries are also famously bicycle friendly. To be sure, much of the developing world gets about by bicycle, as does economic powerhouse China, but not, it seems, because they want to.

"I'd rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle," a 20-year-old female contestant on a Chinese game show remarked in 2010. She isn't alone in that. The Chinese as a nation may not be wildly happy with their lot in life—they finished a lowly 93rd on the World Happiness Report—but sales of BMWs there are booming, with the company's profits up 52 percent for the first half of 2013.

50 comments
siddharth saini
siddharth saini

Oh How good is it to see the way people of denmark feel it as their responsibilities towards each other. Towards each other's happiness. In a world where we get more chances and occasions to criticize, being able to speak good of something, carries happiness right from our brain down through our spine.

In the part of the world other than denmark, people drown so intensely in the day-to-day rat race that they absolutely detach themselves from the realities of life.
The True essence of life is juiced only when you realize that whatever you do has to lead to one goal. The Goal of happiness. You study, you need to be happy after doing that. You work in order to fetch the worldly pleasures of life, you got to be happy by doing that.
Do what makes you happy. Be it polishing shoes or making a good manager. It does not matter. All that matters is, how peacefully you sleep at the end of the day.
Here are some easy hacks to lead a happy life. For all our lives its only about being Contended.
http://workouttrends.com/harnessing-happiness

gayle potter
gayle potter

I love the focus of this article.  Growing up in Canada I have long felt that our happiness level has been a long neglected focus.  I have come to the  same conclusion that much of our unhappiness is directly related to the "psychological warfare" we have been subjected to.  We are an affluent nation, but we still suffer from a "spiritual" poverty.  Still there is nowhere in the world that I would rather live.

Shriranga Wirth
Shriranga Wirth

Nice to see my two home countries Austria and Canada in the ton ten, and I have to say I agree mostly with this list, though I am missing Bhutan which is the only country in the world - as far as I know - that puts people's happiness in front of economic prosperity thus widely recognized as the happiest place on earth.

James Denney
James Denney

This may be the obvious one. Money may not buy happiness, but it sure doesn't hurt, as even the most cursory glance down the list of the world's happiest countries reveals. They are all expensive places to live.They also have high taxes, spend a lot of money on social welfare programs, and enjoy good health care. There are no wars in these places. Or malaria. And very little corruption.Contrary to all of the wailing & gnashing of teeth by the conservatives about health care & social programs ... countries that provide universal health care & other constructive social programs are much happier than the countries like the good ole USA with the dog eat dog ... Corporate profits at all cost (including the greedy we are too big to fail economic autocracy - the gov & people's taxes need to bail us out of our own avarice) & the public be damned ... every man/woman for themselves.

The people in Countries that support capitalism with a heart & a conscience are happier & healthier than we are.

James Denney
James Denney

This may be the obvious one. Money may not buy happiness, but it sure doesn't hurt, as even the most cursory glance down the list of the world's happiest countries reveals. They are all expensive places to live.

They also have high taxes, spend a lot of money on social welfare programs, and enjoy good health care. There are no wars in these places. Or malaria. And very little corruption.

Contrary to all of the wailing & gnashing of teeth by the conservatives about health care & social programs ... countries that provide universal health care & other constructive social programs are much happier than the dog eat dog ... Corporate profits at all cost (including the greedy we are too big to fail economic autocracy - the gov & people's taxes need to bail us out of our own avarice) & the public be damned ... every man/woman for them selves countries like the good ole USA.

Sherrie Miranda
Sherrie Miranda

The point is that the countries that take care of all their people, esp. those that need it most, are happier than those people from countries that care more about multinationals' profit margin.

When we we ever learn?

Eliza Ivanova
Eliza Ivanova

We should not ignore that it is not only the objective factors that are leading to either high or low levels of happiness, but also the cultural characteristics, which have been shaped in the phylogenesis of the nation. For example, I can say for Bulgarians, that we tend to be a little on the negative side and to pick out the faults in everything. I do not deny that life is made hard and not very pleasurable (by us of course) here but it's certainly not as bad as it looks from the ranking. That's why happiness is not to be attributed solely to money, corruption and so on. After all, bear in mind that the measures used in the research measure subjective well-being, which implies the subjective perception, which is not so straight-forwardly explained with external ostensible factors. 

Atmakuri Koteswara Rao
Atmakuri Koteswara Rao

One of the main reasons of happy living is by allowing us to live happily by others ( culture of society ). In all developing countries this factor may be a prominent factor.

jim jarvis
jim jarvis

I think we need to re-look at wealth. True middle class families are typically happy (content) where as  moderately rich are constantly working to attain the next level of richness (stressed out).

Marcial Wills
Marcial Wills

"4. Nice weather doesn't correlate to happiness." ??

"Forget palm trees and crystalline beaches, azure seas, and thoughts of plump mangoes falling into your lap—such things may be okay for holiday dreaming, but lovely weather doesn't seem to cut it when it comes to making us happy on a day-to-day basis."

"With the lone exception of Australia (coming in at number 10), all of the world's top-ten happiest countries have long, bleak winters. Iceland, which edges out Australia at number 9 on the list, barely sees the sun at all."

Well, I see a direct correlation between Weather and Happiness.
Just DON'T try to force yourself to see beaches as weather!

If only except by one, all of the world's top-ten happiest countries have long, bleak winters, and bearly see the sun..... there you have the right correlation. Cold Weather = Happiness

I think that to do that Happiness-Weather correlation better, you have to check up the list by regions. In my region Central America, the 3 happier countries (Costa Rica 12, Panama 15) have the less warm weather, but the other unhappy countries have generally very hot weathers.

I feel optimist that the same happens in Africa.

Now, if we don't check the Happiness-Weather correlation by region, we will find inconsistent spots like that one the less-happy country in the mostly cold Europe (Bulgaria) is as unhappier than the unhappier countries in the mostly hot Africa!... But bring a dozen of bulgarian to live in the unhappy countries of Africa, and a dozen of africans to live in Bulgaria, and for sure pretty soon you will realize who was happier before.

The only region in the world I don't see a Happiness-Weather correlation is North America, but could be due by two factors:
- Sample Size: North America is ONLY three countries

- United States constantly assisting wars and conflicts outside of their regions impacts directly, prolongedly and strong to the happiness of its people

Theodor Fishler
Theodor Fishler

Tensioned life is not a factor to disturb happiness. As an example see the high position of Israel though it is allways in danger of war and terrorism from its surrounding neighbors

Marcial Wills
Marcial Wills

"Nice weather doesn't correlate to happiness. Forget palm trees and crystalline beaches, azure seas, and thoughts of plump mangoes falling into your lap—such things may be okay for holiday dreaming, but lovely weather doesn't seem to cut it when it comes to making us happy on a day-to-day basis.With the lone exception of Australia (coming in at number 10), all of the world's top-ten happiest countries have long, bleak winters. Iceland, which edges out Australia at number 9 on the list, barely sees the sun at all."

Wela Kalhoefer
Wela Kalhoefer

Happiness requires balancing work in all demands in life and being happy doesn’t mean feeling elated all the time.  Those fulfilling their potential and focused on living with a sense of purpose  have better sense of happiness. 

The number of people searching for happiness  is  50 million every month, according to google. Happiness entrepreneurs are developing a scientific-backed happiness  phone app that could reach millions at the press of a button. http://y55happy.com/support-y55/ . This mobile phone app teaches people how to be happy in the most accessible way. Research shows that virtual therapy is as effective as face to face and although nothing can substitute a warm friendly, personal touch, it is going to be a great addition, to what is currently available to us. Definitely an upgrade worth supporting.




Robert Spreitzer
Robert Spreitzer

Perhaps the gap between rich and poor is narrow in these nordic countries, that chasing the almighty dollar is not regarded as virtuous. Perhaps as well more social justice is prevalent, and crime consequently is markedly lower.

Shane C.
Shane C.

Maybe they should listen to the song Happiness Is. Happiness to me is inner peace and harmony with family, friends and work. Most of all with yourself and God. I would say environment, health, and contentment also due play factors. Happiness definitely comes from attitude and your mental state towards yourself and your fellow man. No matter where you live. Obviously living in a country that offers liberty and freedoms does help.

Matthew Cecile
Matthew Cecile

I love how people are saying "Ohhh where's Canada?" or being smug and chortling that Canada isn't on the report. Well I wonder how many people actually READ the full report and saw the chart. Canada is ranked 6th overall.

本 初
本 初

This photo  is  a feeling !

Flower Jasmin
Flower Jasmin

What is the criteria for what is happy? I don't particular find Nordic people happy. They might have wealth and comfortable living but fear of it dissipating is very real.Their weather sucks and they drink like crazy.


Ana Eisenkoelbl
Ana Eisenkoelbl

No mention of Canada? Why, of course not! This article was most certainly written by an American and the only time Americans remember their neighbours to the north is when they need our support for some US-led invasion or attack (usually to "protect" the oil). And yes, I am Canadian, in case you couldn't tell by my gratuitous use of the letter "u".

Ahmad Cerial
Ahmad Cerial

denmark is the best! :) love living in denmark. 

Matt Sharf
Matt Sharf

Even though Canada is not mentioned, you can pretty much take a guess Canada would be in the top 10 by the themes of the article...."Generosity of citizens, long bleak winters, high taxes, welfare, health care, etc."  Canada has all of these.   

It's misguiding though that they say none of the top countries have tropical climates yet Costa Rica comes in a decently high 12th place.

Bruce Carter
Bruce Carter

Denmark - "freedom to make life choices" - like an age of consent of 14 years old for girls.  Rampant production of child pornography.  Rampant prostitution and human trafficking.  OF CHILDREN.  No, thank you!

Ste Schlappi
Ste Schlappi

Over 20 years ago a young person from Denmark asked me why the US spends so much money on Defense. I asked him what Denmark would do if the Soviet Union attacked them. "Nothing, he said, there is nothing we could do." I told him that we could do something if they attacked US, therefore, we do it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I wonder how happy these countries would be if had not had US spending our money to protect them from the Soviet Union all those years.

Psych Clone
Psych Clone

Incidentally, Canada finished 6th behind the top five mentioned above.

Mike Radcliffe
Mike Radcliffe

Weird place our Canada, it's starting to sound a lot like America thinking everything should be about us. A keen eyed observer would notice that over 100 countries were not mentioned in the article. So try not to feel left out eh.

Gordon Toronto
Gordon Toronto

And where do you think Canada is on this list?  Anyone?  Read the article . . . oops no mention of this curious country.  

Snicker.


Sherrie Miranda
Sherrie Miranda

If there are issues like political polarization and murders and mass murders, no amount of money can make up for the hardship this causes, esp. if one group seems to NOT care that people are being killed BECAUSE of our lax gun laws.

Sherrie Miranda
Sherrie Miranda

"- United States constantly assisting wars and conflicts outside of their regions impacts directly, prolongedly and strong to the happiness of its people"

This is the other issue I forgot to mention. Many Americans are unhappy about our govt. sticking it's nose in other country's business, as well as spending our (the taxpayers' money) on these wars. This is also creating the revenge mentality that is halping in the murders/mass murders here.

Anybody see where the U.S. is on the scale?

Sherrie Miranda
Sherrie Miranda

Which proves that many are oblivious to what their govt. is doing to the Palestinians.

Sherrie Miranda
Sherrie Miranda

Very good points, Robert! I think your observations are spot on!

Shane C.
Shane C.

@Caitlyn Johnston I agree but I want to get one of those electric bikes. I feel happy while riding a bicycle, but unhappy peddling uphill. This way the electric motor can kick in on the start of my going up. That way I will remain happy in the ups and downs of my bike ride.

Alvin Calicaran
Alvin Calicaran

@Ana Eisenkoelbl Canada is number 7. Click the link that reads "2013 World Happiness Report" and you will see the full list of rankings there.

Phaulonius Knucklebones
Phaulonius Knucklebones

@Ste Schlappi  

I suspect the US is not the only deterrent to countries randomly attacking each other. Although the earth is historically violent, history suggests many countries exercise the sdame caution that a wiild animal does in it efforts to survive....too much risk (ie: randomly attacjking other countires) exposes an organism/country to potentially harmful consequences. I also suspect, it is the US who provokes much of the ill-will towards itself by being such a corporate, world bully. Don't flatter yourself that you're the world protectors.

Guilherme Feistauer
Guilherme Feistauer

@Ste Schlappi @Ste Schlappi 'protect' from the Soviet Union?


What about your federal government that needs to protect itself from its own people? (NSA, FBI cheeky assassinations and regular counter-constitutional actions)

What about those American citizens who have to protect themselves from a corrupt police force and dubious Congressional orders just because they happen to be physically and ideologically different in some way or another?

What about all the countries that had to protect themselves from oil-driven wars, based on cheap economic gains over peace and the well-being of others?

What about UN representatives that have to protect themselves from all too usual US vetoes and sanctions on issues that have been outdated since the 1970s? (Drug Policy and Narcotic conventions)

What about minority groups within your own country that still have to fight for basic human rights about their culture, sexuality or religion?

What about those who couldn't even defend themselves during the Nuremberg trials? (Great example of democratic principles of equality and justice - not)


I'm by no means defending the old Soviet Union - they are long gone to be 'protected' from; my greatest worry is your state thinking it is some kind of liberator whilst it slaves its own people and others.

Michael Frenkel
Michael Frenkel

@Sherrie Miranda Not oblivious but accepting that so long as Palestinians cannot (inter alia for religious reasons) accept the right to exist of a Jewish State in the Jewish Homeland, they will remain under some form of undesirable occupation.  Note also that the Gaza Strip is completely unoccupied but stridently denies Jews any national rights at all and promotes sporadic murder of Jews.

Eric Paul
Eric Paul

@Guilherme Feistauer @Ste Schlappi And you missed the original post's point.  Everything you mentioned above, despite your incessant attempt at over-exaggerating it all, pales in comparison to what it would be like if China or Russia steamrolled through your country.  I also think you owe the US a great big Thank You for keeping Hitler from owning your a@@

John C.
John C.

Above all those big square states.

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