Earth & Conservation

What Is Life Really Like In Iceland?

Despite harsh winters and economic decline, Iceland ranked third on the UN's 2016 World Happiness Report. So what makes Icelanders so happy?

A few weeks back, the United Nations released its semi-annual World Happiness Report, listing the happiest places on Earth. The report ranks 156 countries by relative happiness level, crunching the numbers on economics, national statistics, survey analysis and public policy.

As usual, the Nordic nations swept the top spots. The tiny nation of Iceland placed third, despite its geographical isolation, extreme weather and long winters. What makes Icelanders so happy?

Well, for one thing, government officials pump 70 million cubic meters of nitrous oxide into the atmosphere each spring, using industrial air processors modified from -- oops, wait a minute. Wrong notes. Here we go....

As Jules Suzdaltsev reports in this Seeker Daily dispatch, Iceland's social policies promote healthy lifestyles and communal trust. The country is a parliamentary republic with a generous and successful public welfare system. Health care and education -- including college -- are provided free of charge, and government policies vigorously protect workers' rights. As a result, Icelanders tend to be well-educated, healthy and happily employed.

RELATED: How Iceland Beat The Banks

Iceland also boasts extremely low crime rates. Police and security forces keep a low profile and even the country's larger cities function like small towns -- people leave their doors unlocked and children walk to school on their own. Iceland's per capita rates for violent crime are among the lowest in the world.

Icelanders also tend to eat healthy, with a diet based around organic vegetables, local fish and yogurt. Icelanders are extremely serious about their yogurt. Physical fitness is highly valued in the Icelandic culture -- popular leisure activities include hiking, ice climbing and kayaking.

But some experts contend, quite seriously, that the real key to the nation's happy and healthy vibe is ... bathing. Icelend's huge heated public pools, known as sundlaugar, are considered a kind of civil right among citizens and serve as community gathering spots. Most of the pools are outdoors, geothermally heated and open year-round. But if you're visiting, be sure to follow the proper protocol.

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

United Nations: 2016 World Happiness Report

The Atlantic: Iceland: Superlative Happiness on a Cold Little Rock

BBC: The Truth about Icelandic Happiness

InterNations: Healthcare, Education and Safety in Iceland