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The World’s Happiest Country Is All About Reading, Coffee, and Saunas

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With more than 3 million saunas and landscapes as pretty as this, it’s no wonder Finland is the happiest country in the world.

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With more than 3 million saunas and landscapes as pretty as this, it’s no wonder Finland is the happiest country in the world.

Finland topped the World Happiness Report for the fourth year in a row, followed closely by Denmark, Switzerland, and Iceland.

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From the feelings that travel gives you when you’re exploring the world to how you hold on to those memories back at home, happiness is something we think a lot about here at AFAR, especially after the past year. So naturally we were curious to see which country came out on top in the latest World Happiness Report.

What is the happiest country in the world?

According to the 2021 World Happiness Report, Finland is the happiest country in the world for the fourth year in a row. It’s followed by Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, and the Netherlands in the annual survey released on Friday that ranks countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be. European countries, including Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, and Austria, dominate the rest of the top 10.

In fact, the only country outside of Europe to make the top 10 in 2021 is New Zealand, which ranked ninth. The United States slipped one spot, coming in at 19 in the rankings this year, while the United Kingdom fell from 13 to 17 since last year. Meanwhile China jumped from 94 to 84 in this year’s report, showing that people’s perception of how their country handled the pandemic could have also contributed to an overall rise in well-being. 

Thanks to Finland’s rapid and extensive safety measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, it has one of Europes lowest COVID-19 mortality rates.

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“In Finland as well, of course, people have been suffering,” Anu Partanen, author of The Nordic Theory of Everything told the Associated Press. “But again in Finland and the Nordic countries, people are really lucky because society still supports a system buffering these sorts of shocks.”

Spending more time outdoors, as Finns do, could help boost your own happiness.

The 20 happiest countries in the world

In addition to Finland, here are the 20 happiest countries in the world, according to the 2021 World Happiness Report.

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Switzerland
  4. Iceland
  5. The Netherlands
  6. Norway
  7. Sweden
  8. Luxembourg
  9. New Zealand
  10. Austria
  11. Australia
  12. Israel
  13. Germany
  14. Canada
  15. Ireland
  16. Costa Rica
  17. United Kingdom
  18. Czech Republic
  19. United States
  20. Belgium

Why is Finland the happiest country in the world?

The World Happiness Report bases its annual rankings of 149 countries using data from the main life evaluation question in the Gallup World Poll.

In it, respondents are asked to rate their current lives on a 0 to 10 scale with 10 being the best possible life for them and 0 being the worst possible life. The countries that made the top 10 this year ranged from Austria’s 7.268 up to 7.842 for Finland at the top. Afghanistan had the lowest score at 2.523.

While these results are based entirely on self-perception, factors that the Happiness Report says contribute to making these life evaluations better in each country include a high GDP per capita, a strong social support system among friends and family, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, absence of corruption in government and the business world, and generosity when it comes to donating to charity.

“We find year after year that life satisfaction is reported to be happiest in the social democracies of northern Europe,” Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, a coauthor of the report, told the Associated Press. “People feel secure in those countries, so trust is high. The government is seen to be credible and honest, and trust in each other is high.”

Northern Exposure: Dipping into Finland’s Sauna Fascination
Helsinki opened Oodi, a 185,677-square-foot public library, in the city center in 2018.

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If you’ve ever considered a move abroad, these categories are something to take into mind while starting your life as an expat. But Finland’s friendly locals, thriving culture and coffee scenes, and unfettered access to nature all make it a great destination even if you have only a week to take off on vacation—once Finland reopens its borders, of course.

Once that happens, arts and culture lovers will be thrilled to explore Helsinki’s museums. In the past few years, Helsinki opened Amos Rex, a world-class contemporary art museum, and Oodi, an energy-efficient public library at the center of the city designed to be the nation’s “living room.”

If being outdoors makes you happiest, Finland has plenty of that, too. Like many other Nordic residents, Finns have a close relationship to nature and get outside even during the coldest months. For those who want to relax in a serious way, Finland also has more than 3 million saunas.

Looking for ways to practice Finnish happiness at home? Here are seven lessons you can pull from Finnish culture, so you can learn to revel—even in the darkness.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This article originally appeared online on March 20, 2019; it was updated on March 20, 2020, and again on March 19, 2021, to include current information.

>> Next: The Traveler’s Guide to Happiness

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