Have you ever considered what the happiest countries in the world may be? Countries where citizens are most satisfied with their quality of life and overall benevolence? For over 10 years, the World Happiness Report has measured the happiest countries in the world based on residents’ average life evaluations, and quality of life factors such as safety, physical and mental health, wealth, employment and many more. Results are released every March in conjunction with the International Day of Happiness on March 20, and the 2023 winner is…
For the 6th year in a row, Finland has been voted the World’s Happiest Country. What makes Finland so special that its citizens are so satisfied and happy with their lives?
So what can you expect to find as a traveler to Finland? You will find it’s a safe travel destination. There are low levels of crime and a high level of trust between the government and the public. Everyone is made to feel welcome, and that extends to visitors.
You will find a country rich in beauty and natural resources. Spend time in the midnight sun during the summer, witness the Northern Lights in winter, or connect with nature. From Helsinki, you can reach a national park in 30 minutes or an island in 15. There are more than 40 national parks and 200,000 lakes throughout the country featuring hikes and activities for all activity levels. Plus, the country enjoys an internationally known arts and culture scene
It’s no surprise that the 2nd happiest country in the world is another Scandinavian country. After all, Danes enjoy many of the things that make Finland so special.
They have the work-life balance that so many of us crave – a minimum of 5 weeks’ vacation, generous parental leave, and shorter workweeks. Access to healthcare and free education round out the list. On top of that, they trust each other; 79% of Danes say they trust most people. But most of all, Danes have mastered hygge – the art of living cozily.
As a visitor to Denmark, you will find a small country big on food, culture and nature. The one thing you won’t find there are mountains. But instead, it makes up for it with over 5,400 miles of wild coastland and unique geographical features. Take the time to visit Råbjerg Mile, the Danish desert which is also one of the largest migrating dunes in Europe. Or hunt for trolls in the Rold Forest. In Copenhagen, of my favorite cities, you’ll find the world’s second-oldest amusement park, Tivoli Gardens, a world-class food scene, and Strøget, the world’s longest pedestrian street. Denmark is safe and beautiful, and makes for a trip of a lifetime.
Third amongst the world’s happiest countries is yet another Scandinavian country – Iceland. Iceland is one of the easiest European countries to travel to from North America as it’s only a 5-hour flight from the East Coast and enjoys nonstop flights from many hubs.
Like Finland and Denmark, Iceland enjoys a high standard of living with a population that is always cheerful and optimistic. It only has a population of only 350,000, so it’s no wonder that Icelanders consider themselves one large family and have a strong sense of community – they are often distantly related. That is not an exaggeration; the government has a database people can check to make sure they are not related before dating. There is low crime and the natural beauty of Iceland is without compare. Plus, Iceland is considered one of the most literate nations in the world.
Iceland is so easy to get to that it’s possible to hop over for a long weekend. Visit in the winter, and take a chance at seeing the Northern Lights. Visit in the summer, and get endless daylight. The beauty of Iceland is that due to its location, temperatures in Reykjavik are not much different than winters in New York, for example. Make sure you visit Thingvellir National Park, the birthplace of the world’s oldest democracy and where you can walk between the North American and European continents (intrepid travelers can even dive between the tectonic plates dividing the two). Hike a glacier, visit a geyser, or see more waterfalls than you’ve ever seen before. Iceland is a country of breathtaking beauty and dramatic landscapes. It’s no wonder it’s one of the happiest countries.
In a surprising turn, Israel moved up this year from 14th on the list to the 4th happiest country in the world. What’s responsible for this large jump? It’s hard to say, but while the country has always been embroiled in political turmoil, researchers believe it’s due to a strong economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic and optimism and confidence among several populations as a result of the new government. The World Happiness Report measures happiness between different demographics, and while Israel is made up of Jews, Arabs, Christians, Jews and immigrants from around the world, they found that there was only a very small happiness gap behind the different groups.
So what about visiting there? Expect a trip full of the modern and antiquity. This tiny country has gorgeous beaches, a mix of cultures, stunning landscapes, and a long and complex history. It’s small enough that you can have a base in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem from which to do day trips all over the country – you can drive from the North to the South in a matter of hours. It’s a country of contrasts – both religious and secular or as the saying goes, “Tel Aviv plays, Jerusalem plays). As it is home to the world’s major 3 religions, it is necessary to be mindful of the various traditions and customs you will encounter along the way when planning your trip (i.e., most businesses are closed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday for Shabbat.
While the Netherlands is not Scandinavia, its residents enjoy much of the same lifestyle as those in the counties mentioned on this list. But, it’s really the Dutch mindset that makes them amongst the happiest people on earth. They believe in being your true self and not getting hung up on what others think of you. Be individual. Be pragmatic. Don’t make excuses and overall, just chill out. Enjoy life experience and don’t take things too seriously. I was once in the Netherlands and saw a woman in her 70s riding a bike in the rain. For me, this was unfathomable (I try to find every excuse not to go out when it’s raining, let alone get on a bike). When I mentioned it, the Dutch person I was with replied “so, she’s not made of sugar” ie. she won’t melt.
Will you find this attitude on a trip to the Netherlands? Absolutely. You’ll find a nation of people who are direct, but friendly. People who enjoy life, nature and physical exercise. Your first stop most likely will be Amsterdam, with its stunning canals and architecture. But Amsterdam is not like the rest of the country – the city center has been lost to mass tourism. It’s a small country, so make time to visit more of it. Haarlem, Utrecht and Maastricht are equally stunning cities where you will get more of a flavor of Dutch culture and history. But, whatever you do, please make sure you know the difference between a coffee shop and a café.
Are you ready to plan a trip to one of the happiest countries in the world? Let me know and I can make it happen for you.
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