Find Your Happy Place

place planning well-being Mar 28, 2024

Finland does it again. For the seventh straight year, Finland tops the list of happiness countries as identified by the 2024 World Happiness Report, a collaborative analysis conducted in partnership by Gallup, the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and the World Happiness Report’s Editorial Board. Meanwhile, the U.S. sits outside the top 20 (#23).

The conclusions are based on self-reported measures across 134 countries, though researchers found that six variables helped to explain the results in part: GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy at birth, freedom, generosity, and corruption. 

Must we all move to Finland? Of course not. However, it reaffirms that place matters for happiness and healthy longevity.


People in the U.S. are happier in general, as compared, to the world composite and happiness increases with age (Source: 2024 World Happiness Report)


Dynamics Vary by Age

The happiest places by age vary. The happiest place for young people (those under age 30) is Lithuania, followed by, surprisingly, Israel (the data was collected after the war with Hamas began). The happiest place for older people (those aged 60 and over) is Denmark. Afghanistan is the worst by far for both age groups.  

At the global level, people tend to be happiest earlier in life. However, this trend masks important regional and country differences. In the grouping of North America, Australia, and New Zealand, happiness increases over time. Part of this phenomenon results from a dip in happiness for young people. Young people in the U.S. rank just #62, consistent with the nation’s concern about the well-being of its youth. Nonetheless, on a relative basis, the U.S. is a good place to age.


The place is a composite of several physical layers, with the country being just one of them (Source: Right Place, Right Time.)


Region of the World and Country Are Only Part of the Story

Unsurprisingly, war-torn and corrupt countries rank among the least happy places to live. However, region of the world and country are only part of the story. The composite of place also includes states & provinces, cities, neighborhoods, and even blocks. We can find ourselves in a happy country yet not be in the best place based on these sub-country dimensions. Similarly, even those in unhappy countries may be able to carve out a happy life by optimizing in these other areas.

Of course, meaningful variances exist among sub-country dimensions, just as they do for countries. “Best Places to Live” lists have some utility, but seeing data analysts do more work within countries is encouraging. A recent analysis shows that some of the best places to live in the U.S. may be in the West and Midwest compared to the Southeast and Rust Belt.


People that find their happy place aren't just happy in the moment; they are likely to carry health benefits to their future self. (Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash)


Tension of Happiness vs. Rootedness but the Effect is Real

Why doesn’t everyone move to a happier place? It’s complicated. For some, the idea of moving from their home is unimaginable. Their country is the core of their identity and sense of place. Dire circumstances, such as persecution, corruption, and violence, may be necessary to trigger a move.

For everyone, a move takes courage. Making a change at any stage of life assumes risk and uncertainty. Inertia is a powerful force.

But the impact of a change for the better is real. This year’s Happiness Report concludes with a telling insight: it links happiness to a reduced risk of dementia. Well-being matters in the moment and its effect on our health compounds over time.

At a minimum, the happiness study should remind us that our environment shapes us, much more than we shape it. If you find yourself amiss, now may be a good time to find your next happy place, and it is best to consider places where people are already happy.



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