Although pop culture may convince people that good looks, wealth, and power are the keys to happiness, measuring what constitutes being happy comes down to the basics: things like clean drinking water, affordable health care, and a healthy work-life balance.
Every year, the United Nations publishes a “World Happiness Report” ranking 156 countries from the most happy to least happy. The score is based on responses to the “Cantril Ladder Question,” a prompt that asks participants to evaluate the quality of their lives on a scale from 0 to 10.
For the 2018 report, adults in 156 countries were surveyed for the list. In addition to the learning about participants’ quality of life, the report additionally factored in six key variables including gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption.
Stacker has compiled the top 50 countries on the list—read on to see which countries are home to the happiest citizens on earth.
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Happiness score: 5.952
Located northeast of Poland on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, Lithuania enjoys low unemployment rates at 6.2% and healthy levels of work-life balance. Famous for its Cepelinai potato-meat-dumplings, the country was the happiest of all of the Baltic nations on the World Happiness Report and was also ranked fifth in the world on the Climate Change Performance Index.
3/ Dronepicr // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 5.973
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.
5/ Diliff // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 6
Famed for its cobbled streets, delicious pasta dishes, and cultural landmarks, Italy never slumps far below many of its European neighbors in happiness rankings. The country offers decent rent prices (outside of big cities) and some of the best weather in the region. The city with the best quality of life is Bolzano, according to a recent study that examined factors including crime, health services, job opportunities, and social distress.
6/ Evilarry // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 6.072
Thailand is known as the “Land Of Smiles,” and given its ranking on the list, it’s no surprise its people are grinning. The Southeast Asian country, which boasts some of the world’s richest jungles and beautiful coastlines, is ranked #9 on a list of 140 for the New Economic Foundation’s (NEF) Happy Planet Index. The score looks at how people in a country use ecological resources to live longer, happier lives.
7/ Bashar Al-Ba'noon // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 6.083
Tucked underneath Iraq to the east of Saudi Arabia, this small Middle Eastern nation has moved forward leaps and bounds since the early '90s, when its neighbor to the north invaded the country and wreaked terror on its people. In 2017, Kuwait City was ranked in the top 10 for economic factors in Bayt’s “Top Cities in the Middle East and North Africa Survey,” which considers job availability, affordable housing, career opportunities, salaries, and cost of life.
Happiness score: 6.096
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 citizens are beginning to enjoy greater freedom: Recently elected President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is moving the country away from authoritarianism, freeing previously jailed dissidents and establishing fair trial systems.
9/ Wadiia // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 6.105
With high salaries and a thriving expat community, this Persian Gulf nation, which sits off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, enjoys widespread financial stability and large degree of wealth. On top of that, the country will begin providing universal health care to all of its citizens next year.
Happiness score: 6.123
Although Poland has been through its fair share of political turmoil, particularly after World War II, the Central European country has managed to maintain relatively high levels of happiness. This may partly be attributed to its attitude of “Jakoś to będzie,” loosely translated as “things will work out in the end.”
“It’s the unwavering certainty that we can do anything, no matter what obstacles we face along the way,” author Beata Chomątowska said of the philosophy.
11/ Smillin // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 6.141
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. But since then, a popular uprising early in 2018 has disrupted its appeal to travelers; it’s unclear how the current political climate will impact the country moving forward.
Happiness score: 6.167
El Salvador sits below Guatemala in a region full of picturesque mountain ranges and sprawling coastlines. Though it has long suffered from gang violence that’s left it with some of the highest murder rates in the world, the gang activity is concentrated in certain municipalities—with other parts of the country enjoying enjoying higher safety and security. In a 2017 Gallup poll of Central America, Salvadorans reported the highest increase in satisfaction in the past decade, with 44% saying they were happy.
Happiness score: 6.173
Just below Poland, the nation of Slovakia sits amid the stunning Tatras mountains—the highest mountain range in the Carpathians. According to a 2017 TASR newswire Social Progress Index, the Eastern European country has dramatically improved its basic needs indicators, such as clean drinking water, nutrition, hygiene, personal safety, healthcare, and access to information.
14/ Grueslayer // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 6.192
This beautiful set of twin islands off the coast of Venezuela looks like a tropical paradise , complete with aqua-blue water and rolling white sands. Ranking at #38 on the list, it is the happiest country in the Caribbean—which isn’t surprising, given its many colorful festivals, lively musical performances, and vibrant culinary scene.
15/ Norma Gòmez // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 6.26
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: 6.31
Spain sits on Europe’s Iberian Peninsula, just north of Algeria and Morocco. Although the job market has struggled in recent years, its high-quality, single-payer health care system, which was listed as seventh best in the world by the World Health Organization, is affordable and universal to all citizens.
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Happiness score: 6.343
Just off the southern coast of Malaysia sits Singapore, a vibrant island city-state with a cosmopolitan vibe. The city has been ranked #1 in Asia multiple times for quality of living, according to a Mercer survey. In the same study, it was named best in the world for city infrastructure, and in 2018 it landed #8 worldwide on the Institute For Economics & Peace’s (IEP) Global Peace Index.
Happiness score: 6.371
Located south of Iraq in the center of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is mixture of mountainous regions and sprawling desert between the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. Although the absolute monarchy has strict rules limiting personal freedoms—particularly those of women— and a poor track record with human rights, it offers an excellent road system, great health care, good salaries, reasonable working hours, and lower costs of living than many of its neighboring Gulf countries.
20/ StellarD // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 6.374
On the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, perched on the Persian Gulf, lies Qatar and its capital city Doha—a growing Middle Eastern metropolis and future host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.The region has low taxes and is rated highly in the categories of business freedom, personal safety, and quality of health care.
21/ Jikatu // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 6.379
Uruguay is situated east of Argentina, north of the mouth of the surging Rio de La Plata. The small South American nation is famous for its socially progressive policies and as of 2017, was the only country in Latin America to be listed as a full democracy on The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index.
Happiness score: 6.382
Guatemala has faced significant challenges over the years, including violent crime, rampant government corruption, and extreme poverty. Yet the people of this small Central American nation, which sits just south of Mexico, consistently remain some of the happiest folks on Earth. This can be attributed to a combination of strong community involvement, deep family bonds, lots of physical activity, and widespread presence of religious faith—the latter being a mix of Catholicism and Mayan spirituality.
Happiness score: 6.388
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 country is full of natural resources, high literacy rates, and stable economic indicators. In 2017, it was listed at “very high” on the United Nation’s Human Development Index (HDI).
24/ OS2Warp // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 6.419
Brazil is South America’s largest country, covering 3.28 million square miles of terrain. Poverty and corruption are major issues in Brazil, but its people are nevertheless determined to keep their chins up. In 2017, the Fundação Getúlio Vargas organization launched an initiative called the Well Being Brazil Index to begin quantifying and tracking happiness in various cities with the goal of improving its citizens' quality of life.
25/ SaavedraVS // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 6.43
Located south of Costa Rica 9 degrees north of the equator, Panama acts as a bridge between Central and South America. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, yet scores high points on virtually every happiness survey in which it participates. In 2014, it was named the world’s happiest country in a poll by Gallup and Healthways Global, towering over all other nations by 17 percentage points.
Happiness score: 6.441
Taiwan is a sovereign island nation lying just east of China. Its ranking at #26 on the list makes it the happiest country in East Asia. It climbed the list seven places from last year’s rankings, indicating that not only is happiness widespread in Taiwan but it’s growing, too.
27/ Inconsequential // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 6.476
Lining the western coastline of the southern half of South America, Chile is a stunning nation full of natural wonders—including rivers and valleys, lakes, forests, and the famous Patagonia mountain ranges. Although it suffered for decades under the horrific dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Chile has been inching closer to a full democracy in recent years. In fact, the United Nations‘Human Development Index (HDI) listed it as a “flawed democracy” in 2017, meaning it has free and fair elections but with limits—such as media censorship, low participation, and underdeveloped political culture.
28/ Jeff Kramer // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 6.488
Mexico, which comes in 24th on the list, is the world’s second-highest ranked country on the NEF’s Happy Planet Index. According to NEF, the high ranking can be largely attributed to the “massive steps” the country has taken in recent years to improve the health of its people, most notably when it passed universal health care legislation in 2012.
Happiness score: 6.489
France lands at #23, higher than its Spanish and Italian neighbors yet lower than the Scandinavian countries to its north. With more tourists than any other country on earth, the world is clearly drawn the picturesque western European country, yet the French have a long history of being labeled gloomy and morose. However, a recent poll suggests that the tides may be shifting, with 1 in 2 citizens reporting that they consider themselves happy.
30/ Frank Vincentz // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 6.627
This island nation sits south of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded by a pool of beautiful blue-green waters. The country is another on the list that climbed rankings this year, moving up from #27 to #22. The country excelled most in the categories of “confidence in the government” and “freedom to make life choices.”
Happiness score: 6.711
Famous for its castle-filled capital of Prague (the “City of a Hundred Spires”), the Czech Republic sits in between Poland to the north and Austria to the south. The eastern European country ranked #7 on the IEP’s Global Peace Index, tying with Singapore for being the most improved since the previous report.
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Happiness score: 6.774
Located south of Qatar on the Persian Gulf, this Middle Eastern country is most famous for its dazzling capital city of Dubai, world-renowned for modern architecture, luxury hotels, and bustling nightlife. The nation reaps considerable economic benefits due to its sizeable oil wealth, which figures into the country’s happiness ranking.
33/ Diliff // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 6.814
The United Kingdom has struggled economically in recent years amid rising inflation and ongoing Brexit negotiations. Nevertheless, the western European country has reported climbing happiness metrics every year since the Office For National Statistics began keeping track in 2011, with greater satisfaction levels in England than in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. This year, when asked to rate their happiness on a scale of 1 to 10, the average score was 7.52.
Happiness score: 6.886
As the United Kingdom gets happier, people in the United States are reporting decreased happiness levels for the second year in a row. At 18th place, the country is down four spots from the previous year—its lowest ranking since the report began in 2012. A separate Gallup poll reflected a similar drop in happiness between 2016 and 2017— the biggest since the organization began tracking the numbers.
While the economy has been growing and the job market improving, some of the slumps in happiness could be attributed to factors like political polarization, stress, poor quality of health, economic inequality, increased use of gadgets and technology, wages not keeping up with inflation, or increased drug abuse.
35/ Max Pixel
Happiness score: 6.91
Nestled in between Belgium, France, and Germany, the tiny country of Luxembourg enjoys lush green countrysides and a charming mix of cultures. As one of the world’s major financial centers, the country boasts the fifth-highest GDP on the planet.
Happiness score: 6.927
Just north of Luxembourg is Belgium, known for its world-class beer and delectable chocolate treats. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Belgium scores above average in numerous quality-of-life factors, including income, work-life balance, health, education, and civic engagement.
Happiness score: 6.965
Coming in at #15 on the list, Germany performs well on many major happiness indicators. The people are healthy, with access to universal health care and an average life expectancy of 81 years. The populace is also well-educated: 86% of adults aged 25–64 have completed upper-secondary education. This can partly be attributed to the country’s 2014 decision to abolish tuition fees for undergraduate students at all public universities.
39/ Leonora (Ellie) Enking // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 7.072
Things are good in this peaceful Central American country, which abolished its army in 1948 and offers universal health care to its citizens—earning it the nickname the “Switzerland of Central America." It’s filled with lush rainforests, mountainous volcanoes, and sunny tropical beaches, boasting 6% of the world’s biodiversity. Its people have an average life expectancy of 79.1 and the easygoing nation was ranked the “happiest country in the world” by the NEF’s Happy Planet Index.
Happiness score: 7.139
Nestled in a cluster of six European countries, Austria is known for its elegant castles and Vienna’s traditional Wiener schnitzel dish. The Austrian people report high levels of happiness and the IEP’s Global Peace Index ranked it #3 on its list.
41/ Israeltourism // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 7.19
Tucked amid the cradle of civilization is Israel’s rich geography including high mountain ranges, low fertile valleys, sprawling deserts, and coastal plains. The Middle Eastern nation has a life expectancy of 80.7 at birth and an exceptional universal health care system that’s been running for more than 20 years.
42/ Berichard // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 7.272
With its sunny beaches and sprawling outback that draws millions of tourists every year, Australia is often ranked highly for its citizens' quality of life. The country has high-quality drinking water, above-average voter turnout rates, and only 1.4% of the labor force has been unemployed for a year or longer. Furthermore, when asked if they knew someone they could rely on in time of need, 94% of Australians questioned responded “yes.”
43/ Bengt Nyman // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 7.314
The first of many Nordic countries in the top 10, Sweden is famous for its meatballs and lingonberry jam, as well as iconic superstore IKEA. It was named the third-best country to grow old in, according to Global AgeWatch’s 2015 Index.
44/ Johnragla // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 7.324
Across the Tasman Sea from Australia sits New Zealand, a land made famous for its natural wonders, helped in part by the fact that the “Lord Of The Rings” trilogy was filmed there in the late '90s. The laid-back country uses 38.3% renewable energy and was named the second-most peaceful country in the world on the IEP’s Global Peace Index, topped only by Iceland.
45/ Tobias Alt // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 7.328
The United States’ neighbor to the north repeatedly lands itself on the top 10 list, this year coming in at #7. Aside from its magnificent natural beauty and high-quality universal health care, the northern country enjoys an above average work-life balance. In fact, only 4% of employees reported working “very long hours,” compared to 11% in the U.S. and the 13% average the OECD reports.
Happiness score: 7.441
Filled with some of the most progressive citizens on earth, the Netherlands boasts a high-functioning universal health care system and above-average life expectancy of 82 years. The forward-thinking European nation was ranked #10 worldwide on the Social Progress Imperative’s (SPI) Social Progress Index, scoring high points for exceptional drinking water, excellent nutrition, great medical care, easy access to information, and expansive civil liberties.
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48/ Kenny Muir // Wikicommons
Happiness score: 7.495
With tax rates lower than the OECD average, Iceland ticks off many of the high quality-of-life boxes. Both health care and education are free, life expectancy at birth is 83 years, and it’s been ranked the most peaceful country on earth every year since 2008 on the IEP’s Global Peace Index.
Happiness score: 7.555
One of the three Scandinavian countries topping the list, Denmark is brimming with stunning cliff sides, fjords, forests, capes, and mountains, and is the fifth-most peaceful country in the world. It’s well educated as well—81% of adults aged 25 to 64 have completed upper secondary education.
Happiness score: 7.594
Not only is Norway among the happiest places on earth—it’s one of the most beautiful, too. The country is covered in towering fjords and sweeping coastal lookouts with scenic points that look like they came from postcards. Its citizens have access to free education, high-quality universal health care, and high living wages. In fact, Norway was named the most prosperous country in the world in by the 2015 Legatum Prosperity Index. It was also ranked #1 in the world for democracy by the United Nations' Human Development Index (HDI).
Happiness score: 7.632
At the top of the list sits Finland, another Nordic country which climbed four notches up the ladder from last year to land itself at #1. The ultra-safe country has low crime rates, fantastic ecological policies, and an extremely well-educated populace: 88% of adults aged 25 to 64 have completed upper-secondary education. Its world-class health care system has led to high life expectancies—the average is currently 82 years at birth.
What’s more, immigrants report being just as happy as local residents."The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born," said John Helliwell, a co-editor of the report. "Those who move to happier countries gain, while those who move to less-happy countries lose."