Happiest Places in the World – Where have you felt happiest?
It’s a fact of life (in the UK at least) that Jan & Feb are the worst months of the year; all cause for mass celebration has gone, summer and the chance to see daylight on a regular basis are still months away and scraping together the energy to be happy seems so much harder than usual.
On the basis that happiness is infectious I’ve put together a list of places on the planet where there is good cheer to spare and hope it inspires travels or at least provides a little relief from the long and gloomy months ahead. While happiness can spark from a whole range of things whether it be good weather and great food or golden beaches and perfect company – it’s all pretty subjective, I have never left a beach where my happiness has outweighed my frustration at finding sand everywhere for the next 4-6 days. So this is mainly a list of places where the evidence of happiness is clear, where people smile, laugh and find joy in all around them.
Photo from the European Commission
They may be making some of the grimmest (yet brilliant) T.V. series at the moment (if you haven’t seen The Bridge then stop reading this and watch it right now) but Denmark came top in a study of the world’s happiest countries by the World Values Survey Organisation, a result that seems to derive from content and healthy living. While the cause of happiness can be subjective it’s safe to say that pride, where justified, almost always means happiness and the Danish are proud of their home; with fresh food, easy access to stunning scenery and a productive but laid-back capital they have every right to feel proud too.
Photo: Robin Pope
Famous for their friendly welcome to all travellers, Malawi is known as the ‘warm-heart’ of Africa and as one of the poorest nations the locals are really proving that money cannot buy happiness. It is assured that wherever you go in Malawi you’ll be greeted with smiles and the Malawian people pride themselves on creating a warm, friendly and welcoming atmosphere for all.
Any country that measure happiness on an official scale is taking the mental well-being of its inhabitants seriously but in a Buddhist country that has made great efforts to preserve a spiritual way of life this is no great surprise. The air is fresh and clean, the surroundings awesomely majestic and the Bhutanese are full of smiles and good cheer.
Charleston, South Carolina, USA
I spent a few days in Charleston and have never been to another city where so many of the locals greet one another on the street. At first it’s a little disconcerting to have a stranger approach with a beaming smile and a cheery salutation; in the UK we’re barely that affable with friends but here it’s a way of life and it’s amazing how quickly the smallest gesture lifts spirits and brightens the day. Sitting on an uneven and creaking porch on a warm summer evening while sipping a cold beverage is my idea of quintessential Southern living but add a cheery greeting from countless passers-by and a great moment has become a perfect one.
Even on Tanna Island where residents live next to an ever-snarling and spitting volcano the exuberantly happy people of Vanuatu cannot be kept down. Day-to-day life is a marriage of honing ancient skills and respecting the earth that rumbles beneath but there’s almost always a celebration on the way at which point the whole community, young and old, gather to leap, sing and chant in traditional dress; those lucky enough to experience these displays of mirth say that it is impossible not to surrender to the joy. Life is about contrasts and appreciating the moment and it seems that living next to a volcano makes people enjoy every second of existence.
Florianopolis is said to have the best of both worlds; a thriving and buzzing city but with a superb quality of life. There’s great beaches, food, culture and architecture and when a city offers up so much the residents have little to be unhappy about so it’s no wonder Florianopolis was voted ‘Friendliest City’ by Conde Nast readers.
Costa Rica has been deemed the most satisfying place to live according to the 2012 Happy Planet Index, which aims to measure human well-being. And with many stunning national parks and beaches, plus a high life expectancy meaning there’s plenty of time in which to enjoy it all, there’s much to be happy about.
Hidakagawa, Wakayama, Japan
A town that has a festival of laughing in which ‘laughing men’ parade the streets in traditional costume and throw sweets to the crowds is going above and beyond to spread the good cheer. The legend goes that the Goddess Nifutsuhimenomikoto was upset to have overslept and missed the God’s gathering in Izumo but the local people cheered her up by telling her to “Laugh! Laugh!”. To this day the parade is specifically about sharing happiness with others.
Photo: Shaun Flannery
And to prove that happiness isn’t necessarily too far away; Harrogate in England was named the UK’s happiest place to live. While the measure included house prices and room sizes both community spirit and neighbourliness were also big factors. Let’s not forget that the Tour de France started t’up North last year and with crowds of beaming faces cheering the riders on the happiness factor went through the roof, sometimes the UK gets it right.