happiest places

Find Your Happy Place: The Best Places To Live According To Satisfaction Studies

Photo courtesy of Nelson L via Flickr

Happiness is on the rise worldwide — with some locations outshining others.

While well-being is difficult to quantify, to some extent, the key to happiness might just be where you live.

Here’s a synthesis of the most recent and relevant reports on the happiest places, and where the winning and losing locations are.

Global Happiness

Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index: Panama! Panama-a! 

Gallup-Healthways’ new report on global well-being measures well-being by five prominent elements: purpose, social relationships, financial security, feeling of community, and physical/mental health.

After an extensive interview process, their latest report, released September 16, 2014, found that Panama had the highest level of well-being, followed by Costa Rica and Denmark. The U.S. ranked 12.

To no one’s surprise, the unhappiest nations were Syria and Afghanistan at only 1%.

World Happiness Report: Danes win, Portuguese lose

The World Happiness Report, an annual measure of happiness published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solution, has ranked Denmark first for the second year running, using data from 2005 – 2011 and 2010 – 2012.

That’s right — the Danes have reason to be smug. Besides being home to the Little Mermaid, cheese danishes, and free university, Denmark’s happiness score may be the result of a cultural attitude that values trust, empowerment, and places import on friendship over money.

The United States ranked 17th out of 85 in 2013. Portugal came in last.

Followed closely by Norway, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, Denmark has also topped the Eurobarometer well-being survey for over 30 years.

According to the OECD’s Life Satisfaction Index, however, both Switzerland and Norway exceed Denmark; perhaps the Danes should watch their backs.

Happy Planet Index: Costa Rica is green and happy

The Happy Planet Index (HPI) takes into account three factors in their measurements: life expectancy, experienced well-being, and ecological footprint.

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”x9AdGEknl8QcBNOkPQxCAAjKw4H0XCc3″]Introduced by the New Economics Foundation in 2006, the most recent HPI results contrast that of the World Happiness Report: Costa Rica tops their list with a grade of 64 out of 100, followed by Vietnam with 60.

The United States has a low ranking of 37, only slightly ahead of Afghanistan, likely due to its huge carbon footprint. Denmark’s footprint is even bigger than America’s due to meat production, sinking it significantly to a score of 36.3 out of 100.

This index heavily weights environmental factors in their HPI calculations, hence their results. But when taking into account just experienced well-being, Denmark once more takes the cake with Canada in second place.

National Happiness

Gallup’s Well Being Index: Alaska rules, West Virginia (still) drools

Within the United States, happiness varies by state. One reason you won’t see Disney World as the happiest place on Earth? Florida doesn’t rate especially high on Gallup’s State of the States report.

In 2015, Alaska rose to first place for the first time, followed by Hawaii and South Dakota. North Dakota sank from 1st place to 23rd — ouch.

Sorry West Virginia, you come in last for the sixth year running.

Harvard’s Unhappy Cities Study: Cheerful Charlottesville, Sad NYC

A study by a team of Harvard researchers encompassing data from the CDC and other sources set out to determine which U.S. cities were the happiest and the most miserable.

By their calculation, Charlottesville, Virginia may just be the happiest place in the country. Residents of Thomas Jefferson’s hometown agree, attributing their well-being to liberal values, strong community, good food and nice weather. For cities with over 1 million in population, VA still wins with Richmond-Petersburg.

Saddest cities? One is Scranton, P.A., which has been described in an SNL skit as the “worst place on earth” by Jason Sudakas’ portrayal of Joe Biden — though the cast of The Office might beg to differ.

Among largely populated cities, New York City ranks last, as a reminder never to let  Alicia Keys and Jay Z’s vocals sway you too much. Just because these streets make you feel brand new doesn’t mean they won’t also make you cry.

Updated on March 3, 2015.

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Jennifer Markert