Since the book The Geography of Bliss was first published in 2008, there has been some shift. The happiest country in the world, at least by some measures, is now Finland, a country Eric Weiner did not even visit to write his book. When I began traveling internationally, Iceland was the first country I visited and Finland was #2. I was extremely happy in both cultures and went back more than once to both.
I do not believe that data from 2008 is no longer worth reading. To understand the present, we must know the past. That the happiest country in the world has shifted from Iceland to Denmark and Finland is interesting so far as history goes and does not make a book published in 2008 any less of a good read.
The first place Eric Weiner went to determine his choice of countries to visit was Rotterdam, the Netherlands. He went there because the World Database of Happiness is in Rotterdam, and while writing he remained skeptical and open-minded about his choices throughout The Geography of Bliss, which continues to sell. For example, he concluded that a country he praised for its happiness, Iceland, is happy due to failure. He would surely not be unhappy to note that Finland is now judged happier than Iceland or that Moldova has been booted from unhappiest status in favor of South Sudan. The World Database of Happiness didn’t publish a list of the happiest countries until 2012, and its 2008 choices are no longer findable, so Weiner was on his own when putting together a list of places to write about.
Most of the current world’s happiest countries lists date from 2019. Those inclined to study this are just now releasing their 2020 lists. The World Happiness Report produced by the United Nations remains influential. Last year its list was headed by Finland. Iceland was #4. The USA ranked #19. South Sudan was in last place of 156 countries, and Moldova was rated #71. Bhutan, which Weiner found very happy, was in 95th place.
Austria is high on most list of the world’s happiest countries because health is a high priority. Ruth broke her wrist in Vienna. The emergency room doctor hurt her intensely and insisted on surgery that she wisely refused. Her arm was put in a cast for travel, and the airline, Austrian, insisted on a doctor’s approval. The airline never asked for the paper, and the doctor that signed it asked me, “How much do you have?” when it came time to pay for his signature.
Finland is a super country that deserves #1 status. It has high GDP, social programs that satisfy, excellent educations, a sauna culture to deal with the cold, and high life expectancy. Weiner nailed one of the aspects of successful countries when he decided that climate doesn’t seriously affect contentment. Of the UN’s top 10 nations rated for happiness, all have cold or rainy climates. In 2019 they were Norway, Iceland, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, and Austria. In 2008, Eric Weiner visited 3 of them. Things change.