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Researchers for the UN have officially submitted their conclusions on the state of the world’s happiness in a document called “The World Happiness Report.” What did they find? Northern Europe scores across the board as the happiest, the UK taking 18th place.

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How does a group of researchers go about defining happiness? How do they measure it? And especially how do countries make people happier? With a push from Bhutan, “happiness” experts have been pouring over these questions for days from New York, at the UN headquarters.

Why Bhutan? Because that’s where the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index originated. Bhutan is the only country where “happiness” is at the heart of its politics and measures the well-being of its people in terms of happiness and not by Gross National Product. In 2008 the country’s first elected prime minister had this to say,

We have now clearly distinguished the “happiness” … in GNH from the fleeting, pleasurable ‘feel good’ moods so often associated with that term. We know that true abiding happiness cannot exist while others suffer, and comes only from serving other, living in harmony with nature, and realizing our innate wisdom and the true and brilliant nature of our own minds.

What makes us happy?

A few key things play into each person’s individual happiness. External factors include income, work, community/governance and religion/personal values. As far as internal or personal factors that make us happy go, mental health, physical health, family experience, education, gender and age all contribute to our own happiness… or misery.

World’s 25 happiest countries

While the results from this research are pretty interesting, the following country rankings are, of course, to be taken with a grain of salt. The ranking system used by the UN is in no way perfect but let’s take a look at which countries generally have the happiest people.

And the winners are… the Danes! (surprised?) Generally speaking Scandinavia did pretty well in this contest with Finland and Norway up there at the top with Denmark. Interestingly the United States sits at 11th place, with the United Kingdom at 18th.

[see]Flights to Copenhagen[/see]

Happiness graph

On the other side of the scale, Africa as a whole has the least happy countries. Burundi, Sierra Leone, Benin and Togo are the unhappiest.

Of course all of this can be seen as subjective, because, as Olivier Zajec (assistant editor “strategic Futurology” at the consultancy and of studies CEIS) questions, does someone live better in the devastated downtown area of Detroit than in a family of fishermen in the Cape Verde?

Is happiness just in the eye of the beholder? Do studies like these influence your travels?

Source: WORLD HAPPINESS REPORT, Edited by John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs.

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