In May 2016, the United Nations released its annual World Happiness Report, which ranks
more than 150 countries according to their quality of life.
Perhaps surprisingly, the tiny nordic country of Iceland ranked higher than nearly every nation on this list, despite its isolation, extreme weather and long, dark winters.
So, what is life like in Iceland,
and why are the Icelandic people so happy?
Well, in just about every sense, Iceland is small. At just under 40 thousand square miles,
the entire country could fit inside the US state of Kentucky.
Iceland's population of over 300 thousand is extremely homogeneous, with nearly 95 percent ethnic Icelandic.
About two thirds of its people live in or around the capital, Reykjavik, which ranks as one of the safest, cleanest, and most eco-friendly cities in the world.
And Reykjavik is not too different from the rest of Iceland, as the country runs almost
completely on renewable, geothermal energy, and boasts extremely low crime rates. In fact,
it has one of the lowest per-capita murder rates in the world, with one for every 100
thousand people. As a result, police and security have little presence, and even the country's
larger cities function more like small towns. Icelandic people have high levels of collective
trust, and, as such, are known to keep valuables in plain sight and send their young children
to school by themselves.
This cooperative mentality is reinforced by Iceland's government infrastructure.
The country is a parliamentary republic, and maintains a generous social welfare system that provides free education through college, as well as health care and nine months of paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers. As a result, most Icelanders are healthy, well-educated and employed.
The unemployment rate is just five percent, and the average citizen lives
about 83 years, which is 12 years longer than the global average. This can also be attributed
to Icelanders' healthy lifestyles. A typical Icelandic meal is a smörgåsbord of organic
produce, yogurt and local fish, and the most popular leisure activities are ice climbing,
kayaking and going to the gym.
Another national pastime is reading and writing. Iceland publishes more books per capita and
translates more international literature than any other nation in the world. And, studies
show that roughly one in ten Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime.
But perhaps the best symbol of Iceland's ubiquitous health, happiness and unity, are
its huge heated public pools, also called sundlaugar. These pools are widely regarded
as a kind of civil right, and families, teenagers and seniors are known to lounge in them in
near nudity every day. Sundlaugar are not only lauded for their health benefits, but
also their ability to unite the community and build public trust.
Experts say Iceland's strong sense of community has solidified its so-called "happiness
maintenance," which is a consistently high happiness rate even when the country is in
crisis. For example, after the 2007 global recession decimated the country's economy,
some Icelanders actually reported greater happiness. Experts say this is because those
who lost their jobs tended not to feel isolated, as Icelanders can count on their friends,
family and government for support. With a healthy, educated populace and a strong safety
net, life in Iceland doesn't look too bad.
Iceland isn't the only happy-go-lucky Nordic country, the rest of them are pretty well off with a high standard of living.
But are they powerful politically or economically?
Find out by watching this video!
But unlike similarly large nations,
the nordic countries have some of the lowest population density in the world with only 26 million total residence.
This is mostly because half of their land is uninhabited Arctic thanks to Greenland.