Happy places: Denmark, North Korea and Bhutan

Well, there’s a title with three countries in you wouldn’t expect to see together. This past week I’ve come across a couple of interesting pieces about happy countries. I’ve already spoken before about Bhutan’s apparent happiness and that’s still a country I’m keen on seeing, and I just came across the book Bhutan Heartland (from our very own Fremantle Press) that makes it look extra-gorgeous.

Happy people … from Colombia and South Korea

So anyway, that’s Bhutan and happiness. Denmark? Well, Scandinavian countries do tend to hover near the top of all kinds of important lists to do with life quality and so it wasn’t really a surprise to me to read this Atlantic article on Denmark, talking about some of the reasons Denmark topped a recent Gallup poll naming it the happiest country in the world (sorry Bhutan – apparently Denmark wins!). It talked about the Danes trusting authority (only when it was virtuous though – and perhaps it is, in Denmark) and trust each other. All this doesn’t exactly gel with my only recent experience of Denmark on TV here – the crime series The Killing was fantastic but not exactly joyous – but then again, these are the people who invented Lego, which makes a lot of small people I know happy, so they must be onto something.

Happy people … from Australia and Slovakia

And in a rather interesting contrast, Time published a story about a recent North Korean study which named China as the happiest place on earth, and North Korea as the second happiest! According to this study the least happiest place in the world is the United States (perhaps because they don’t take enough holidays?!). Now, I must say, that while the closest I’ve come to being in North Korea is right on the border, I didn’t exactly get the impression that the nation of people who were on the other side (towards whom we weren’t allowed to point, or show off our modern clothes like denim and T-shirts) were ecstatically happy in any way.

So to tie this all up, I’ve been wondering which country I think is the happiest. I even thought through my experience with different nationalities while travelling and while teaching English (that’s how I found these happy photos of my former students!). My South American students certainly always seemed to be the ones having the most fun with life, but the differences between “haves” and “have nots” were more extreme in their countries than in others. My students from countries like Japan and South Korea were uniformly comfortable in life financially, but often under pressure. So my final answer? I have no idea. Sorry. But I’m open to any opinions, just leave them in the comments!


  1. I just finished re-reading Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss, One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World. He listed 10 places. Interestingly, Iceland was one of them. I have never been to Iceland but if Weiner’s observations are spot on, I’ll throw in my vote for that country.

    Reasons for it being the happiest place on Earth are: giving people room to fail, trust (seems a common thread to happiness), people can re-invent themselves freely, and no starving artists. If it were a cold weather person, I would pack my bags and buy a one way ticket now.

  2. Nicole / Woman Seeks World says

    Lovely article! Ive always found it so fascinating on trips when a certain group of different nationalities are exposed to the same situtaion (car breaking down in the snow for example) but all deal with it completely differently…some nationalities always better than others, but I wont name names! ; )

  3. @ Mila, “no starving artists” sounds very inviting – but yes the cold weather would get me down. Although I’ve always had a strong fascination with Iceland.

    @ Nicole – so true. I’ve learnt similar stuff watching different nationalities in my classroom. So often the stereotypes are true – because of course, they had to arise from somewhere …

  4. The Mother Experiment says

    No idea sorry, only been to Japan (and Australia). I have heard stories about some of the poorest of the poor countries being full of happy people, I wonder if that’s true or not.

  5. @ The Mother Experiment – yes, I wonder – certainly I’m sure that money doesn’t make you happy but having enough money to be comfortable certainly seems to make *me* happy – it’s an interesting question.

  6. LOL!! I was waiting for a big statement! 😉
    I think this is such an interesting topic. I haven’t done enough travelling to be able to comment really, but would love to hear what more people think.

  7. Ha ha sorry about that!! I really can’t figure out the answer. Happiness is so hard to define! But I don’t think I’ve yet been to a country where I could actually say that on average people are really happy. (sad to say!)

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