The Happiest Countries to Visit

The port in Oslo, the capital of Norway, ranked earlier this year as the world’s happiest country (Wikimedia)
The port in Oslo, the capital of Norway, ranked earlier this year as the world’s happiest country (Wikimedia)

Sometimes for the seasoned traveler craving new adventures, the burning question becomes: “Where would I like to go next?” Maybe you’ve already visited a wide array of great historical, scenic, food, wine, arts, and shopping destinations. Or maybe you haven’t, but now you’re in a mood to think outside the box.

One intriguing possibility is to consider visiting one of the world’s happiest countries. That’s right—“happiest.” That certainly sounds uplifting, doesn’t it? And, as you might suspect, all of the world’s happiest countries also offer the kinds of experiences that make for happy vacations. In fact, most of them are very popular travel destinations, offering visitors lots of wonderful sightseeing, cultural, and culinary opportunities as well as contact with happy inhabitants.

Just who decides which are the happiest countries on earth?

Several organizations do. But, among them, one of the most widely quoted is the Prosperity Index published annually for the last 6 years by the Legatum Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy organization based in London. In all, the institute investigates 142 countries, which together make up 96% of the world’s population. And the rankings are based on 89 separate indicators in 8 categories such as government, health care, economics, safety and security, and education. Certainly, each nation’s wealth is a factor in its ranking. But, according to Forbes, one of the most valuable facets of the Legatum study is its ability “to look at all the myriad issues that make up well-being and prosperity.”

And just which of the 142 are these happiest of countries? According to the latest Legatum Survey released earlier this year, the top 10 include:

  1. Norway. While Iceland is the safest and Luxembourg is the healthiest, Norway was ranked first overall for reasons ranging from an amazing per capita GDP of $57,000 per year and the second-highest level of satisfaction with their standard of living. In fact, 95% of Norwegians say they are satisfied with the freedom they have to choose the direction of their lives.
  2. Denmark. Norway’s neighbor came in first in entrepreneurship and opportunity and second in social capital.
  3. Sweden. Things are looking up in Sweden: its ranking jumped from 7th overall last year to 3rd in the index. One reason—it now ranks 2nd in entrepreneurship and opportunity.
  4. Australia. This nation-continent came in 2nd in education and 3rd in personal freedom.
  5. New Zealand. Australia’s neighbor was 1st in education and 2nd in governance and personal freedom.
  6. Canada. Our neighbor to the north scored 1st in personal freedom.
  7. Finland. The Finns were highly ranked in entrepreneurship and opportunity as well as safety and security.
  8. Netherlands. The Dutch scored well in both social capital and health.
  9. Switzerland. The Swiss came in 1st in economy and governance but 32nd in education.
  10. Ireland. Personal freedom was a big factor here. The Irish were ranked 4th.

Where did the U.S. rank on Legatum’s index this year? We came in 12th, missing the top 10 for the first time in the survey’s 6-year history by slipping in such areas as personal freedom and entrepreneurship and opportunity.

On a less happy note, the country that received the lowest ranking on the index was the Central African Republic, where the per capita GDP is $790 per year, average life expectancy is 48, and a scant 2% of the people have home Internet access. Counting up from the bottom are Congo, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, and Haiti.

Is there a country that offered you your happiest travel experience ever? If so, send us a post telling us about the country and the experience that put that big smile on your face. Needless to say, we’d be happy to hear from you.