An expert’s take on the four happiest places in the world

According to happiness expert Dan Buettner, there are four places in the world that are, well, the happiest places on earth. Buettner has not only traveled to many unique places across the globe, but also studied the happiness and longevity of people from various regions.

In Buettner’s new book, Thrive, he discusses “the evidence-based parts of the world where people are measurably happier…” Buettner said in a National Geographic interview with Ford Cochran. But what exactly is “happiness,” and who defines it?

Buettner certainly has a clear idea in his mind of what happiness is.

“Happiness varies a little bit from place to place,” Buettner said in the interview. “People who live in Asia are hardwired a little bit differently than people who live in the United States. When it comes to happiness, there are some universals, but there are culturally specific differences too.”

As objective as this discussion may seem, there are legitimate scientific ways to calculate universal levels of happiness. Buettner said that he worked extensively with three huge databases, obtained from National Geographic, that account for some 95 percent of earth’s current human population.

The four happiest places in Buettner’s opinion are:

  • Singapore:

“The happiest place in Asia is Singapore, and all three databases point to that,” Buettner said. “It’s irrefutable.”


  • Denmark:

Buettner said that happiness and equality are greatly linked, especially in Denmark.

…The countries that have a very short ladder between the richest and the poorest people are a lot happier than those where a few people make a lot of money and a few people don’t make much money,” Buettner said in the interview. “We know that trust is hugely correlated with happiness, places where people are trustworthy and you can trust the government, low corruption.”


  • Nuevo León, Mexico:
Buettner deemed Nuevo León “the happiest region of Mexico, which was the happiest country in Latin America when we did this work – actually the happiest country in the American hemisphere.”
He said this is due to several factors, including:
  1. Religion, which on a worldwide basis accounts for affiliates to be happier than their non-religious peers
  2. Family, and big ones at that. Buettner describes the Mexican approach to family as “a buffer from stress.”
  3. Social interactions, which takes place for about seven hours per day in this region, a key to factor in happiness.
  • San Luis Obispo, California, U.S.A.:
San Luis Obispo paints a really good picture of the way we ought to be setting up our cities,” Buettner said. SLO “has the best emotional health in the country and the highest level of well-being, I believe, because they have a dozen or so things going for them that were put in place in the late 1970s.”

What things make a city happier? Buettner discusses four points that make SLO a happy place to live:

  1. The city is optimal for quality of life, rather than commerce. City officials purposefully made driving in the city a bit difficult, in order to encourage people to bike and walk during their commutes.
  2. SLO is full of greenery, which has been proven to reduce stress and promote both exercise and relaxation.
  3. The city made it illegal to smoke in bars and restaurants at a time when nowhere else in the country had done so. This makes for a happier environment, as people aren’t catching whiffs of secondhand smoke.
  4. Fast-food drive-throughs are banned, so citizens of SLO are forced to get out of their cars if they want fast food. This not only minimilizes pollution, but also obesity and laziness.

San Luis Obispo, California, U.S.A.

Please visit the following map, which discusses each of the four places in detail while also showing their geographic location:

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