Where are the world’s happiest countries?


Until reading The Geography of Bliss several years ago, I had not given much thought to the concept of national happiness. I always questioned what made people happy not the location of happiness.

I am sure you have heard of Gross Domestic Product, but what about Gross National Happiness? Or perhaps you have heard of the International Day of Happiness. Doesn’t ring a bell?

Although this concept might sound a little Disney to you, it is very real. Since 2008, Bhutan has used Gross National Happiness to measure happiness levels. Other countries in the world are catching on as well.

If you are like me, you might have guessed that the warmest places on Earth are the happiest. After all, that is where everyone wants to go on vacation to get away from it all. For the happiest countries in the world, think north and cold. The Netherlands, Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden are consistently at the top of the list.

You might wonder what makes countries like Norway so darn happy! Can money buy happiness? Money matters, but only to a certain extent. For example, Norway invests oil profits back into the country for future generations, which creates a sense of trust and shared purpose; both of which are important for a nation’s level of happiness.

Since 2012 the World Happiness Report in conjunction with the United Nations has examined aspects of life to assess levels of happiness in 155 countries. The report closely analyzes indicators such as income, generosity, freedom to make choices, and life expectancy.

If you are wondering why the United Nations would care about happiness, this topic has a deeper meaning than making sure people are laughing and smiling. On International Happiness Day 2017, CNN Travel published an article called “Where are the world’s happiest countries?” explaining why studying happiness is a better indicator of welfare than other measures such as education.


“As demonstrated by many countries, the World Happiness Report gives

evidence that happiness is a result of creating strong social foundations.

It’s time to build social trust and healthy lives, not guns or walls. Let’s hold our leaders to this fact.”


If you are fascinated by what makes people happy, take a close look at the CNN Travel Article, the 2017 World Happiness Report, and The Geography of Bliss. If we can understand what makes people happy, perhaps the United States can inch its way out of 14th place on the list!

Celebrate International Happiness Day on March 20th.

Teaching Tips

  • Have students take a closer look at the social norms in the happiest countries in order to examine the connection between culture and happiness levels. Start with this article: The secret to Iceland’s happiness? It’s in the water.
  • Each chapter in The Geography of Bliss focuses on a different country. For older students, have them read selected chapters and conduct more research on the country they read about.
  • Use the photographs from Dollar Street to discuss happiness in countries around the world. Have students decide if the families in the photos are happy based on images of their lives.
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