Earlier this year, Bhutan – known as the happiest nation in the world – pioneered a UN initiative called the Happiness Index, which scientifically measures happiness in a nation.
The tiny Himalayan nation didn’t participate – probs because they knew they’d just smoke the competition – but instead commissioned a report to analyse the rest of the world. So, if you’re stuck for where to holiday next, why not pick one of these – officially the earth’s cheeriest places…
The fact that the Danes are the happiest bunch on earth (after the Bhutanese) proves it’s not sunning on a hot beach that makes us merry (the year-round average temperature’s a brisk 8˚C). Maybe what has everyone so happy is fine dining – the world’s best restaurant, Noma, is in Copenhagen; or perhaps high design – Danish furniture, fashion and architecture is cutting edge – or it could just be the fresh sea air. But one thing’s for sure, a visit to Denmark is marked by the lovely locals as much as it is castles, cute villages and great shopping.
Finns are a quirky, independent bunch who love a good summer festival (seriously, their parties are amazing) as much as cosying up in front of a roaring fire on a chilly winter’s day. Visit in December and try sledding with some huskies or pop along to one of the many excessive and cockle-warming Christmas markets (you may even spot a reindeer if you’re anywhere near Lapland).
From the buzzing capital of Oslo – where you can see Edvard Munch’s famous The Scream – to the eerily magnificent fjords along its west coast, this Scandinavian country is at once one of the most beautiful and most prosperous countries on earth.
Everyone has to visit the Dutch capital Amsterdam – the home of culture, coffee shops and canals – once in their life, but the rest of the Netherlands – think national parks, rugged coastlines and lots of tulips – should also be explored. Perhaps the Dutch are so happy because they bike everywhere, or maybe it’s because they’re all so darned leggy.
The world’s second biggest country has a bit of everything – there are epic mountains, rainforests, local whales and bears, roaring rivers and super-cool metropolises. Why did they trump their cousin the US so strongly? Well the maple syrup is amazing and both hot Ryans (Gosling and Reynolds) are from there – need we go on?
Traditionally known for its crisp, clean air, fab chocolates and cheeses and for being the place to pick up a cuckoo clock, you’ll also come across glistening lakes and alpine peaks – perfect for lengthy strolls and hikes – in this country that’s a delightful cultural mishmash of French, German, Italian and Swiss.
Their exports range from Abba to Ikea, and many of Leo DiCaprio’s ex-girlfriends, but visit the land of Vikings and you’ll discover much more, from the achingly hip clubs of Stockholm to the prehistoric sites of the island of Gotland. This is the place where the Nobel Peace Prize was invented, and when you meet the chilled-out Swedes, you’ll understand why.
8. New Zealand
Kiwis (or “kuiwuis”, as they pronounce it) are some of the most laid-back people we’ve ever met, and after you’ve explored the Lord Of The Rings-set landscapes (like Lake Pukaki below) and sampled the fine cuisine in the beachside restaurants, you’ll understand why.
‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie; Oi, Oi, Oi!’ – this fiercely proud continent, island and nation all in one has prospered while the rest of the world crashed, and is one of the most diverse places you could visit. From the dry arid landscapes of its centre to the beautiful islands along its coast and the sizzling cities that put most world hotspots to shame, Down Under is a good place to be.
If your culture spends a lot of time focused on pubs, live music and singalongs, we can see why you’d be content. Irish people have a disinterested kindness that’s infectious, and whether you come across one of them in a lively bar in Dublin or on the isolated coastline, they’re sure to be good craic.