Visiting some happy places

Travel Destinations — By on January 14, 2008 at 7:44 am

Last summer, a scientist at the UK’s University of Leicester made news when he produced a world map of happiness, in which 178 countries were ranked by their “subjective well-being.” Several European countries, led by Denmark and Switzerland, topped the rankings. The United States was 23rd. Burundi was on the bottom.

According to a BBC article about the topic, “A nation’s level of happiness was most closely associated with health levels.  Prosperity and education were the next strongest determinants of national happiness.”

Now, it seems that Eric Weiner has been traveling through some of the world’s happiest places for a book called ‘‘The Geography of Bliss.’’ The Boston Globe focused on Weiner and some of his destinations in a recent travel feature. A few of the destinations he explored:

* Switzerland. The Swiss have a well-deserved reputation for quiet efficiency and deadly dullness. Yet the nation consistently ranks among the happiest in the world. Are the Swiss on to something? Yes. For starters, nearly everything there functions exceedingly well.

* Thailand. Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles, and for good reason. The Thais have at least a dozen types of smiles, not all of them expressing contentment…Thailand ranks in the middle latitudes of the happiness map, yet that doesn’t tell the full picture. The Thais know instinctively that one of the secrets to happiness is to lead an unexamined life. ‘‘You think too much’’ is a common Thai expression. So is ‘‘mai pen lai,’’ which roughly translates as ‘‘just let it go.’’

* Puerto Rico. (And other Latin nations.) Puerto Rico ranks high in happiness surveys, as do many Latin American nations, despite their relative poverty and often unstable governments. ‘‘The Latino bonus’’ is what some researchers call this phenomenon. Actually, it’s not so mysterious after all. Latinos derive much happiness from their close-knit families and, certainly in the case of Puerto Rico, a fiesta attitude.

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