What Makes the Happiest Countries in the World So Happy?

Last updated March 22, 2024

The World Happiness Report is out with its latest country rankings. What can we learn from the happiest countries in the world? The lessons are clear. Happiness is a collective endeavor.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been chasing the elusive idea of happiness. My own struggles with anxiety and depression nudged me toward the world of wellness, hoping to find some kind of inner peace.

I fell in love with yoga, and even got myself certified as an advanced practitioner. I found solace in the healing energy of Reiki and discovered some life-changing perspectives in Buddhist philosophy.

These weren’t just hobbies to me — they became my lifeline. Meditation and mindfulness became my gateways to understanding myself a bit better. I also got curious about cosmic self-discovery, including tarot and astrology, and they, too. had their own quirky way of helping me make sense of things.

From social connections to lifestyle choices, these insights offered a glimpse into how different cultures foster contentment.

My self study of the world’s Blue Zones and happiest places to live was nothing short of an eye-opener. From social connections to lifestyle choices, these insights offered a glimpse into how different cultures foster contentment. It’s even made me daydream about living in a place where happiness isn’t just an afterthought, but a central focus.

Each year, the World Happiness Report evaluates worldwide levels of happiness based on factors such as social support, financial well-being, personal freedoms, trust in institutions and overall health. It’s a window into the societies that have cracked the code on joy.

These countries craft environments where joy is not just a fleeting visitor but a permanent, thriving resident. I’m on a mission to explore the happiest countries in the world and dig into the secrets and strategies that these countries use to cultivate a culture of happiness. Are you in?

Top Ten Happiest Countries in the World

The World Happiness Report for 2024 just rolled out! Every year, this report gives us the rundown on global cheer: who’s up, who’s down and what’s affecting our collective mood. The report looks at everything from money and support systems to health, freedom, kindness and how much we trust our leaders.

Here’s this year’s scoop: Finland claims the title of the world’s happiest country for the seventh consecutive year. But for the United States — it’s been a tough year. For the first time since 2012, America didn’t crack the top 20, landing at a sobering 23rd. The drop is noted particularly among the youth, contrasting with last year’s position at 15th.

The report also explores happiness based on age demographics. Lithuania emerges as the happiest place for individuals under 30, whereas the U.S. ranks notably lower, at 62nd in this category.

For those over 60, Denmark leads, with the U.S. showing a better ranking at 10th. The findings suggest a generational happiness gap, with older populations in countries like Norway, Sweden and Germany generally happier compared to their younger counterparts. This trend is reversed in Portugal and Greece, where the younger population reports higher happiness levels.

Loneliness has also emerged as a significant concern, especially in the U.S., where it’s increasingly seen as a growing epidemic affecting mental and physical health. Interestingly, loneliness rates are significantly higher among Millennials compared to the pre-1965 generation.

And here’s a curveball: despite ongoing tensions with Hamas, Israel has nabbed the fifth spot in the happiness rankings. But remember, these numbers are a three-year average, so they might not fully capture the latest ups and downs. Plus, timing is everything with these surveys, and that can tweak the results as well.

What’s clear is that happiness isn’t one-size-fits-all, and there’s plenty of work to do to spread those smiles around. So, without further ado — the top ten happiest countries in the world:

1. Finland

Consistently ranked as the happiest country, Finland’s high ratings are attributed to various factors including a strong sense of community, high levels of trust in government and institutions and a well-functioning welfare system.

2. Denmark

Known for its strong social safety net, Denmark also scores high in social support and life satisfaction.

3. Iceland

With a small, tight-knit population, Icelanders enjoy a strong sense of community and trust, contributing to their high happiness score.

4. Sweden

With its focus on social equality, environmental sustainability and work-life balance, Sweden consistently ranks high in happiness.

5. Israel

Factors contributing to their high happiness score include a strong sense of community, family bonds and technological innovation that permeates various aspects of life. 

6. The Netherlands

The Dutch are known for their work-life balance, progressive social policies and an inclusive society.

7. Norway

Norway enjoys a high standard of living, bolstered by a robust welfare state and wealth generated from natural resources.

8. Luxembourg

A small but wealthy country, Luxembourg scores well in terms of economic factors and social support.

9. Switzerland

Famous for its beautiful landscapes and high standard of living, Switzerland scores well in areas like personal freedom and economic stability.

10. Australia

Securing its spot in the top ten, Australians enjoy high levels of environmental quality, personal freedom and social support. The country’s effective healthcare system, emphasis on outdoor activities and the overall sense of safety and economic stability contribute to the contentment and well-being of its citizens, making it a standout for happiness in the southern hemisphere.

Seven Takeaways from the Report

There is a growing consensus about how happiness should be measured. Here are seven factors that the World Happiness Report considers in its assessment of a country’s overall happiness and well-being.

1. Importance of Social Support

In countries such as Finland, Denmark and Iceland, an individual’s network of friends and family forms the backbone of their happiness. These nations exemplify how strong community ties contribute to a sense of belonging and support.

For instance, Denmark’s concept of “hygge” — finding comfort and contentment in simple pleasures — is rooted in togetherness. It’s not just about having people around; it’s about feeling deeply connected to them.

2. Economic Stability & Equality

Economic factors undeniably play a role in happiness. However, it’s not just about wealth, but how it’s distributed. Norway and Sweden, for example, show us that when wealth is distributed more equally, people tend to be happier.

These countries invest in universal healthcare, education and social welfare, ensuring a safety net for all citizens, reducing stress and increasing life satisfaction.

3. Work-Life Balance

The happiest countries often boast an excellent work-life balance. Take the Netherlands, where a typical work week might be considerably shorter than in other parts of the world.

This balance allows people to pursue hobbies, spend time with loved ones and relax, contributing significantly to overall happiness. It’s a reminder that life isn’t just about work; leisure and rest are equally important.

4. Environmental Consciousness

Clean air, green spaces and a commitment to sustainability also contribute to a nation’s happiness. Countries such as Switzerland and Australia are not only breathtakingly beautiful but also conscientious about preserving their natural environment.

This connection to nature not only enhances physical well-being but also provides a mental peace that urban jungles often lack.

5. Trust in Governance

A key factor in the happiness of nations such as Finland and Denmark is the high level of trust citizens have in their government and institutions. Low corruption rates and transparent governance make people feel safe and supported.

This trust leads to a cooperative society where citizens are more likely to abide by laws and work together for the common good.

6. Emphasis on Mental Health

The happiest countries no doubt place a strong emphasis on mental health. They recognize that physical well-being is incomplete without mental wellness.

Public awareness campaigns, accessible mental health service and a de-stigmatization of mental health issues are prevalent in these societies. In these countries, taking care of one’s mental health is as normal as going to the gym for physical health.

7. Age & Happiness

Finally, this year’s report introduces a novel component: age. The findings reveal how happiness levels can significantly differ across age groups, offering a fresh lens through which to view national well-being.

For example, countries like Lithuania (#19) and Denmark (#2) showcase contrasting happiness trends among the young and elderly, respectively, highlighting the different challenges and joys experienced at various stages of life.

This insight into age-related happiness encourages a broader understanding of the factors that contribute to well-being, urging societies to cater to the unique needs of their populations across all ages.

Snapshot into the Happiest Countries

The lessons from the world’s happiest countries are clear. Happiness is a collective endeavor. Happiness thrives in societies that value social connections, economic equality, work-life balance, environmental care, trust in governance, mental health, and now we see, considerate age-related policies.

The addition of age as a factor in this year’s happiness report reminds us that happiness spans all stages of life, requiring tailored approaches to meet the varied needs of different age groups.

While each country’s approach may differ, the message is universal. A happier society is within reach if we strive to embody these values and cater to the well-being of all generations.

It’s time for the rest of the world to take note and perhaps, make some positive changes, ensuring that happiness is a reality for everyone, at any age.

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