Pop culture does an admirable job of convincing people that good looks, wealth, and power are the keys to unlocking our happiest selves. But research instead shows that measuring what creates happiness comes down to a few, much more basic things—like clean drinking water, affordable health care, and a healthy work-life balance.
Every year since 2012, the United Nations publishes a “World Happiness Report” ranking 156 countries from the happiest to least happy. The score is based on responses from adults representing all walks of life to the “Cantril Ladder” question, a prompt that asks participants to evaluate the quality of their lives on a scale from 0 to 10 with 0 representing the worst possible life (or bottom rung,) and 10 representing the best (or top rung).
The report tends to zero in each year on a specific element of happiness for further review. In 2018, the report dove deep into issues surrounding migration and explored how migration affects happiness levels for those left behind, those doing to the migrating, and residents in host countries where migrants end up. For 2019, the World Happiness Report zeroes in on themes around happiness and the community. Specifically, researchers focus on how technology, social norms, governments, cultural shifts, and conflict have caused perceptions of happiness to evolve.
Besides revealing the quality of lives of its participants, the report factors in six key variables including gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption. Then, researchers went a step further to explore the connection between government and happiness; the effects of prosocial behavior; and how information technology has transformed how we communicate with each other and become informed.
From this data, Stacker has compiled the top-50 happiest countries from the list, classified for this gallery from least happy (#50) to happiest (#1). Read on to see which countries are home to some of the happiest people on the planet.
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- Happiness score: 6.028
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.
- Happiness score: 6.046
According to Greek mythology, this Mediterranean island-country was the birthplace of Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love. With long life expectancies rivaling that of fellow first-world countries and a relatively high GDP, the country—and all its breathtaking views—has a lot to offer its residents. The country finds itself toward the bottom of the list mainly for its history of corruption; and for the long-running, separatist movement in Northern Cyprus where ethnic Turks are concentrated and seek independence (or to officially become part of Turkey), while Greek-speaking residents keep to the south.
- Happiness score: 6.070
After a 20th century fraught with conflict (Soviet occupation in 1944, under communist rule from 1948 to 1989), today's Romanians seem to grow happier by the moment. The country is up four spots from #52 on the 2018 Happiness Report, and #57 in 2017. Free elections, advances in industry, and improved relations with the rest of the world (including becoming part of NATO and the European Union) have only bolstered Romanians' resiliency.
- Happiness score: 6.086
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 countryside is full of natural resources, high literacy rates, and stable economic indicators. In 2017, Argentina was listed as “very high” on the United Nation's Human Development Index (HDI).
- Happiness score: 6.100
This tiny, self-declared independent country ties with Malta and Jordan as the world's 20th-safest country in the world. The country is also in the top 50 for doing business in and comes in at #13 among the best 190 countries for starting a business (the corporate tax rate is just 10%).
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- Happiness score: 6.105
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. Since then, an uprising in early 2018 disrupted its appeal to travelers; it’s unclear how the current political climate will impact the country.
- Happiness score: 6.118
Slovenia's ski slopes, lakes, and culture are world-famous; and the country's attributes help to make it one of the happiest places in the world. In addition, Slovenia ties with Singapore as the best country in the world for children, largely for its ability to educate its young while preventing teen pregnancies.
- Happiness score: 6.125
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: 6.149
Located northeast of Poland on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, Lithuania enjoys low unemployment rates and healthy levels of work-life balance. Famous for its Cepelinai potato-meat-dumplings, the country was the happiest of all the Baltic nations on the World Happiness Report and was also ranked fifth in the world on the Climate Change Performance Index.
- Happiness score: 6.174
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 citizen beginning to enjoy additional freedoms: Recently elected President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is moving the country away from authoritarianism, freeing previously jailed dissidents and establishing fair trial systems.
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- Happiness score: 6.182
Although Poland has been through its fair share of political turmoil, particularly after World War II, the Central European country has maintained 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.”
- 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. It's no wonder people are cheery here, given the country's many colorful festivals, lively musical performances, and vibrant culinary scene.
- Happiness score: 6.198
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.
- Happiness score: 6.199
With high salaries and a thriving expat community, this Persian Gulf nation off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, enjoys widespread financial stability and a large degree of wealth. On top of that, a new law in 2018 mandates a national health care insurance system for every resident.
- Happiness score: 6.223
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.
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- Happiness score: 6.253
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 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: 6.262
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: 6.293
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: 6.300
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.
- Happiness score: 6.321
Located south of Costa Rica nine 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.
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- Happiness score: 6.354
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 the seventh best in the world by the World Health Organization, is affordable and universal to all citizens.
- Happiness score: 6.374
On the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia along the Persian Gulf lie Qatar and its capital city of 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.
- Happiness score: 6.375
Located south of Iraq in the center of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is a 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 cost of living than many of its neighboring Gulf countries.
- Happiness score: 6.436
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, lots of physical activity, and widespread presence of religious faith—the latter being a mix of Catholicism and Mayan spirituality.
- Happiness score: 6.444
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 full democracy in recent years. In fact, the United Nations' 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.
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- Happiness score: 6.446
Taiwan is a sovereign island nation lying just east of China. The country climbed up a notch from last year, when it was seven slots up from the year prior. These improvements show happiness in Taiwan isn't just widespread—it's growing.
- Happiness score: 6.592
With more tourists than any other country on Earth, the world is clearly drawn to the picturesque Western European country. Yet the French have a long history of being labeled as gloomy and morose. Polling from multiple sources suggests the tides may be shifting.
- Happiness score: 6.595
Mexico 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: 6.726
This island nation sits south of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded by a pool of beautiful blue-green waters. The country is holding in the same position as last year, excelling especially in the categories of “social support” and “freedom to make life choices.”
- Happiness score: 6.825
Located south of Qatar on the Persian Gulf, this Middle Eastern country is most famous for its dazzling capital city of Dubai, world-renowned 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.
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- Happiness score: 6.852
Famous for its castle-filled capital of Prague (the “City of a Hundred Spires”), the Czech Republic sits between Poland and Germany to the north and Austria to the south. The Eastern European country comes in at just over 7 on average life ladder scores, with low marks for faith in government but high ratings for democratic quality.
- Happiness score: 6.892
As the United Kingdom gets happier, people in the United States are reporting decreased happiness levels for the third year in a row. At #19, the country is down one spot from the 2018 list, when it had dropped four spots from the year prior. A separate Gallup poll reflected a similar drop in happiness between 2016 and 2017—the biggest since the organization began tracking the numbers.
- Happiness score: 6.923
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: 6.985
Coming in at #17 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 between the ages of 25 and 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.
- Happiness score: 7.021
Ireland has good water quality and a low unemployment rate, which hovered at 5.3% in October 2018. More than two decades after the IRA ceasefire of 1994, the country is now listed #10 worldwide on the IEP's Global Peace Index.
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- Happiness score: 7.054
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.
- Happiness score: 7.090
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 consistently ranks in the top-five richest countries in the world.
- Happiness score: 7.139
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 high life expectancy that has increased more than two full years since 2006 and an exceptional universal health care system that’s been running for over 20 years.
- Happiness score: 7.167
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. The "pura vida" nation was ranked the "happiest country in the world" by the NEF's Happy Planet Index.
- Happiness score: 7.228
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.”
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- Happiness score: 7.246
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 feeling independent freedom in their everyday lives and report having a positive affect.
- Happiness score: 7.278
The United States’ neighbor to the north repeatedly lands itself on the top 10 list, this year coming in at #9. Aside from its magnificent natural beauty and high-quality universal health care, the Canada 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: 7.307
Across the Tasman Sea from Australia sits New Zealand, a land made famous for its natural wonders, helped in part because 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 IEP's Global Peace Index, topped only by Iceland.
- Happiness score: 7.480
Known for its picturesque alpine meadows and ultra-low taxes, Switzerland has many reasons to be happy. Its infrastructure is fantastic, its economy is soaring, and the health care system is often called the best in the world.
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- Happiness score: 7.488
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.
- Happiness score: 7.494
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: 7.554
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' HDI.
- Happiness score: 7.600
One of the three Scandinavian countries topping the list, Denmark is brimming with natural beauty, vast agricultural resources, and is the fifth-most peaceful country in the world. It’s also well-educated: 81% of adults aged 25 to 64 have completed upper secondary education.
- Happiness score: 7.769
At the top of the list sits Finland, another Nordic country which climbed four notches up the ladder last year and is enjoying its second year 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.
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