The United Nations recently released their annual World Happiness Report, which included their list of the world's top 10 "Happiest Countries."

A few of the factors that contributed to a country making the list: whether people living there had strong social support (robust communities); whether citizens felt they could trust their government; and whether they lived in freedom.

The United States did not make the list. Canada did.

According to the United Nations, the 10 happiest countries in 2019 are:

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Norway
  4. Iceland
  5. The Netherlands
  6. Switzerland
  7. Sweden
  8. New Zealand
  9. Canada
  10. Austria

Among those paying attention to the list are people passionate about travel, since it follows that not only would it be happiness-inducing to live in such a country, but also to travel to one.

According to Travelzoo Senior Editor Gabe Saglie, "[T]ravel to the countries that made the top 10 cut allows us to tap into some of the pervasive factors that seem to make everyday life there a happy proposition: a sense of community that comes from social support, the joys that come from increased generosity among citizens, and the overall happiness of people who lead a healthy lifestyle ..."

Interestingly, Travelzoo has found that spontaneous travel itself is actually directly tied to happiness. That's right: apparently people who take spontaneous trips have more fun than those who take non-spontaneous trips.

According to Travelzoo, 34 percent of people engaging in non-spontaneous leisure travel (planned trips) agree they are happy most of the time, where as 49 percent of spontaneous leisure travelers reported joy.

That said, even if you're on a planned trip, evidence shows it'll still lift your spirits. Studies repeatedly demonstrate that traveling leads to happiness because it exposes you to novel situations (which spikes your dopamine); allows you to learn about yourself (self-discovery); and helps you build resilience--since travel so often involves overcoming challenges in unfamiliar environments.

In other words, there's nothing quite like having no cell reception in a remote area of a country where you don't speak the language to help you get creative--and learn that you really are resourceful. There's also a sense of peace that comes from learning you can depend on yourself and the random helpfulness of life, even if that means riding in the back of a pickup truck with a bunch of chickens as your travel companions.

In 2018, the travel and tourism industry contributed a staggering $8.8 trillion to the global economy. Unbelievably, travel and tourism also accounts for one in ten of all jobs around the world. So when you travel, not only do you become a better version of yourself, you contribute pretty significantly to the local economy.

Looking to contribute by touring especially happy destinations? According to the list, a good bet is to take a spontaneous trip to Scandinavia--four of the ten countries are there. There are some creative Scandinavian summer cruises.

Other spontaneous ideas: If you live in the U.S., grab a few friends and go on an adventurous roadtrip through whatever part of Canada is closest to your state. Canada has gorgeous national parks; beautiful, safe, clean cities; and a population that's polite and welcoming.

Several airlines also offer low-cost airfare to Iceland, which is on the list--and if you're on the east coast of the U.S., a spontaneous trip there is realistic, given how close it is. Among other wonders, you can take a Game of Thrones tour of the country, including one where you can "relive the Wildlings' invasion south of the Wall." 

Pack light; all you really need is a journal to record your joy.

--

"Not all who wander are lost."

Published on: Apr 9, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.