Each year, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network publishes a report listing the happiest nations in the world. Most times, the Scandinavian countries top the list. In 2017, the winner was Norway, followed by Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland.
So what really makes residents of a cold, somewhat remote northern European country so happy? There are at least 4 factors.
1. They have a lot of money
Money cannot buy happiness, but it sure doesn't hurt that Norway is the number 6 wealthiest country on earth (in terms of GDP per capita).
The country's fortunes changed for the better 40 or 50 years ago when they found oil in the North Sea.
"The top countries, have societies which are not at each other's throats. But also they have high GDP per capita," Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, one of the UN study's associate editors said.
2. They have bad weather
This point might not make sense at first. However, researchers say the dark, cold climate in regions like Norway makes people happier in the long run because survival needs "greater mutual support," And it turns out that the colder weather conditions and longer nights in the Scandinavia might actually help draw communities together.
"There is a view which suggests that historically communities that lived in harsher weather were brought together by greater mutual support," said Dr. John Helliwell, another of the study's co-editors. Plus, it seems the Norwegians have a positive outlook about the negative weather.
3. They have lots of community spirit
It is not just the cold, of course, but the combination of geography and security that lead to people forming long-standing relationships with each other.
"Norwegians do not move often, and often pass their family homes down to their children. My husband bought his family's home", said Kristin Ohrn Nilsen, an American living in Norway. "Therefore, in many cities, particularly small cities, people have a strong network of family and a strong sense of identity".
4. They don't worry (because they have economic security)
Apart from the high per capita GDP, driven largely by oil revenue, the Norwegian authorities spend the country's money on getting security for almost everyone.
"We pay a maximum of $300 per year to doctors, emergency rooms, etc.," Nilsen said. "Once you hit that amount, you receive a 'fri kort' ('free card'), and don't pay anymore the rest of the year," she mentioned other benefits that would be unheard of in the United States; all children's medical expenses, childbirth, five weeks paid vacation, free education through university level.
Everyone gets a pension at 67, even women who have decided to stay at home and have not worked outside the home.