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The 'Happiest' Places On Earth Depend On How You Measure

Ed Ronco
Dancing on a porch in Trinidad, Cuba, in the middle of the day.

The World Happiness Report ranks Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark and Norway as the happiest nations. KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley says his experience has been different. 

“I went to school in Denmark,” he said. “I would not peg any of these countries as what I think of as the happiest places on earth.”

To be sure, the report’s authors are studying different metrics than Brumley. The report is looking at quality of life measures. Brumley is looking at, for lack of a better term, joie de vivre – who seems to be finding the most joy in day-to-day life.

“I think of Costa Rica, Cuba, South Africa, Botswana,” he said, “sunny destinations that are not necessarily wealthy.”

Also on Brumley’s list: Southern European locations like Greece and Italy. In North America, Brumley finds joy in Cuba and Costa Rica. And in Africa, it’s Kenya, Botswana and South Africa. You’ll find easygoing travel in Sydney, Australia, too, he says.

Of course, travelers often make their own luck.

“If you’re a rude, mean person you’re going to be treated in exactly the same manner anywhere in the world,” he said.

But Brumley said there’s also a “national mood” almost everywhere you go.

“I worked in Russia for a lot of years, and I found that a little bit heavy,” he said. “And then you go to Thailand and everything seems to be lighter – the air, the people, the food.”


“Going Places” is KPLU’s weekly exploration of travel topics. Matthew Brumley is the cofounder of Earthbound Expeditions on Bainbridge Island, which provides small group travel to clients including KPLU. Agree with Matthew’s happiness list? Disagree? Have a metric of your own? Tell us in the comments below.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.