• 02.17.12

The Secrets Of The Happiest Countries In The World

Despite what appears to be a dismal outlook, global happiness is actually on the rise. But some countries are clearly happier than others? Where are people the most satisfied? Not necessarily where you would think.

Sometimes it seems like the world is a scarier place than it used to be, with floods, earthquakes, nuclear meltdowns, and deadly flu viruses popping up like we’re in a planetary game of disaster Whac-a-Mole. And yet the world seems to be a happier place than it was four years ago–at least in some lucky parts of the world.


Global research company Ipsos recently released results from its annual world happiness poll, which talked to 18,687 adults in 24 countries about their happiness. Surprisingly, 77% of people polled in November 2011 said they were “happy,” while 22% reported that they were “very happy.” In 2007, 20% of people reported that they were very happy.

Some countries are significantly happier than others (happiness is, of course, subjective). Indonesia, India Mexico, and Brazil lead the pack in happiness, while Russia, South Korea, and Hungary are all pretty miserable (see the chart). There are other factors as well: People who are under 25 are most likely to say they’re “very happy”; Latin American countries as a whole have the most “very happy” people; and people with high income and extensive education are also most likely to report being “very happy.”

World events certainly play a part in happiness, but they don’t mean everything either. Japan’s rate of “very happy” citizens climbed six points between 2007 and November 2011–meaning residents as a whole were happier after the Fukushima disaster than before.

Income isn’t everything either. As Richard Heinberg notes in his book The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being, the percentage of Americans describing themselves as either “very happy” or “pretty happy” (in different studies) peaked in the 1950s, even though per capita income has ballooned since then.

There are clearly other, more personal factors that can’t be measured in a simple survey. But if you want a quick happiness boost, consider spending time in your nearest beautiful city.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.