Which are the happiest countries in the world? How does travel make you happy? Why does planning a trip improve your quality of life? We’ve done some investigating
Travel is one thing that makes pretty much everyone happy. It’s exciting to see new countries and experience new things. Indeed, some of our happiest and most vibrant memories come from traveling; even years later, it’s something to look back on and smile about. But which places see themselves as the happiest and why? Why does travel excite us so much? Read on to find out.
Which are the happiest countries in the world?
Every year since 2012, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network has published its World Happiness Report. It’s a survey to see which countries are the happiest and on what bases (spoiler: basically being socially conscious and environmentally sound, and striving for equality). The most recent top 10 were:
Topping the list for five years in a row now, Finland’s accessible culture, beautiful landscapes, safe cities and laid-back lifestyle make a winning combination. Take a walk in the forest, swim in a lake, eat fresh fruit — it’s the simple things.
The hygge-bringers cite eco-friendliness, sustainability and community as their strongest attributes, meaning a friendly, responsible society.
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Fabulous, almost otherworldly landscapes and natural phenomena like the northern lights mean that long winters are more than made up for by endless summer days in volcanic hot springs.
One of the healthiest countries in the world, Israel’s cuisine is top-notch, from street food to Michelin-starred restaurants. Take advantage of that fresh Mediterranean diet and see what a difference it makes.
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Hop on your bicycle and pop to a local café for waffles and jam, stopping to have a conversation with a neighbor or to pick up groceries. Safe, friendly, and socially conscious are the buzzwords again.
Where Denmark has hygge, Sweden has lagom — a word (also used in Norwegian) that means “just the right amount”. This “Goldilocks zone” is important to Swedes — not too little of anything, but not so much that things lose their luster and charm, so they bring a smile to your face when encountered.
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Being near water is something Norway offers by the fjord-load, so get out to the mountains and lakes to sail, swim, cycle, and get lungfuls of that crisp, clean air.
Believers in a very direct democracy in which everything is voted on by the people, from the number of vacation days nationally to minor, local issues, the Swiss social system is bound by the belief that every voice is important. That — and the chocolate — makes it a very happy place.
High salaries is one of the stereotypes about Luxembourg — and it’s true — but it’s not greed. One of the strongest social security systems in the world means superb healthcare and some of the best work-life balance of any culture (including a mandatory five weeks of vacation a year).
A country that introduces a well-being budget of billions to help citizens’ mental health, end child poverty, and support the Māori and Pasifika populations is a country looking forward. The famously friendly Kiwis also happen to live on some of the most stunning islands on the planet.
Why does travel make you happy?
You might think that’s a silly question. It’s seeing new places, right? Sure, very fun, but there’s a bit more to it.
Even the act of planning a trip can get your happiness levels up. A study by the Institute for Applied Positive Research found that 97% of respondents reported that having a trip planned made them happier. The process provides a distraction from your daily routine, the possibilities are exciting, and the anticipation and delayed gratification of a trip — something solid to look forward to — relaxes us and cheers us up in both the short- and medium-term.
Getting out of your comfort zone and into a new culture, a new language and a new way of doing things means that seemingly simple things — buying a travel card, ordering food, even crossing the street — are done slightly differently. Completed a task? Hey, be proud of yourself!
When traveling, you meet people. That goes without saying, but these are people you might not normally meet. They’re not colleagues or your regular friends; they’re people with stories, motivations, and ideas you might not have encountered before. The one thing you all have is a love of adventure and, for a short time, that’s enough to create a bond.
Living in the moment
Get off your phone (not right now, finish reading this first!) and live in the moment. When you’re traveling, you see things for the first time, and possibly the only time. You spend less time doom-scrolling and give yourself over to the here and now.
Learning new things
Maybe it’s a huge thing, like a new language. Maybe it’s something smaller, like how the ticket machine works on an unfamiliar tram. Travel means you’re always learning, whether consciously or not, and rewards you with that little buzz of endorphins when you’ve accomplished something good.
You can do whatever you want when you’re traveling. Sit in a cafe with a book? Do it. Hire a bike and ride for hours? Do it. Immerse yourself in museums and galleries? Do it. Go out clubbing and return in the daylight? Do it. This is your trip, so whatever it is, do it.
The most important thing you’ll bring back from your trip is your memories. Not just what you saw, but how it changed you emotionally. That particular smell that for the rest of your life will return you to that spice market; that feeling of queasy excitement when you looked from that cliff edge; that moment of wonder when you turned a corner to be faced with something you’d only seen in pictures.
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These are the things that make people happy when they travel. Returning to that emotional state will forever be you coming back to a happy place… and that happy place will be the trigger for you to book your next adventure!
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