World’s Top 10 Happiest Countries
Where are the happiest people? Hint: Mostly in Latin America. See the world’s most blissful places, according to the leading global happiness measurement the Happy Planet Index.
With the second biggest barrier reef in the world, a laidback Caribbean lifestyle and a favorable climate, there’s a lot to be happy about in Belize. But its cultural diversity is what is truly believed to make this country so content and welcoming: European, Creole, Hispanic and Mayan are some of the prevalent groups that form one harmonious culture here.
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Seven of the top 10 countries listed on the Happy Planet Index are in Latin America. Even more surprising is that Guatemala, a country once torn apart by civil war, ranks high on the list. Despite all their problems, Guatemalans are sustained by all the magical beauty that surrounds them -- mountains, volcanoes and sacred Mayan ruins.
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This developing county has the highest well-being score in all of South America, and even ranks higher on the index than the US. While the country’s crime reputation is well-documented, the people here feel lucky to be surrounded by so many natural wonders. The Amazon wildlife, the highest waterfalls in the world and sand dunes are just some of the country’s unique attractions.
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This Central American country values its natural beauty, with a very low ecological footprint score. Adventurous travelers are starting to take note, too. Locals are excited to see tourism grow rapidly here, with increasing interest in Nicaragua's eco-tourism, surfing and “off-the-beaten path” vibe. And it might surprise you, but this country is one of the safest in Central America -- that’s something for locals to feel good about, too.
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Positivity runs rampant in Panama. Yes, that’s right: Even though Panama is one of poorest countries in the world, it has a very high well-being score. Perhaps a rising standard of living and growing economy have something to do with it. Panama has a lot to offer visitors, too, including untrampled beaches and a festive cultural atmosphere filled with plenty of dancing.
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“Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be alright.” The words of this island nation's immortal native son, Bob Marley, still echo in Jamaica today. The typical Jamaican response to any request, “No problem,” also sums up the national attitude. And who wouldn’t have a constant smile on their face if they lived in this sun-soaked Caribbean paradise?
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Even though this country is overshadowed by neighboring Guatemala and Mexico as a hot tourist destination, locals are content with what they have: Friendly neighbors, hearty comfort food like yummy pupusas and chicharron, and under-the radar beaches. And travelers should take note: While El Salvador has a reputation for gang violence, a recent truce has seen a huge drop in incidents.
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Some of the best coffee in the world comes from Colombia -- could a continuous coffee buzz be keeping this country happy? Or perhaps, it’s the fact that Colombians have the second highest number of national holidays in the world. Plenty of days off coupled with lots of good coffee would put a smile on our face, too.
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Did you think Thailand, the Land of Smiles, might have the highest HPI score in Asia? According to the HPI, Vietnam is actually the happiest country in Asia. A resilient and growing nation, Vietnam has become a major tourist destination over the last 20 years. The Vietnamese have a high level of satisfaction in life, appreciating what they have: quiet beaches, booming cities and some of the best cuisine in the world.
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An-army free country has to be doing something right. The happiest country on Earth can’t have many enemies (maybe that’s why they have a high life expectancy of 79.3, too). With abundance of natural beauty --- from beaches to volcanoes to rainforests -- Costa Ricans appreciate their bounty. The local saying, "Pura vida," loosely translates as "Life is good." And here in Costa Rica, life is pure happiness, too.
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Athletic VolunteerismGet fit, give back, and see a new city at the same time. According to Cheapflights.com, this year will see an increase in athletic volunteerism, a trend fueled by growing participation in mega sports events like the New York City Marathon. Biking more your thing? Check out events like the Ride to End AIDS, a 7-day bike ride from San Francisco to LA. 960 1280
Detox and Unplugged VacationsOn a quest for quiet? Need to unplug from your gadgets? Resorts and hotels are answering our growing addiction to technology with detox vacation packages that promise not to have Wi-Fi or TV on isolated grounds, but rather wellness services like yoga and meditation -- all designed to quiet your mind. 960 1280
Vacation With Your PetAccording to a recent PetRelocation.com survey, nearly 1/3 of all pet owners planned to travel outside the US with their pets this past year. Pet travel is likely to grow, as more hotels and airlines, such as Pet Airways, continue to make it easier to bring your pooch along on your next break. And since traveling with your pet guarantees a more active vacation, you won’t have to worry about hitting the hotel gym. 960 1280
Weight-Loss CampsWant to take off work and pounds at the same time? The Biggest Loser resort at Fitness Ridge, in Ivins, UT, offers healthy meals, a day full of exercise, the power of group motivation, and plenty of spectacular scenery with daily canyon hikes. 960 1280
Healthier Options for In-Flight MealsFruit on a plane? For some airlines, yes. Air Canada and Virgin America offer the healthiest in-flight food, a recent nutritional survey found. Pictured here is Virgin America’s “protein box,” sure to help give you an energy boost on your next redeye. 960 1280
Healthier Cruise ShipsWhen you think of taking a cruise, you may think of buffet food and unlimited drinks, aka a vacation of overindulgence. But in 2012, cruise lines are offering more ways to experiment with fitness trends or at least keep up with your daily workout regimen. Fred Olsen Cruise Lines offers yoga, Pilates, personal trainers, daily organized walks around the deck, and even pools with waves for resistance swimming. 960 1280
Holistic HolidaysTop US spas, such as Miraval near Tucson, AZ, offer more than physical benefits. In addition to helping you find your freshest layer of skin, Miraval’s spa services help calm your inner core enjoy with programs designed around mindfulness and self-discovery. 960 1280
Fitness Friendly HotelsHotels are feeling the pressure to offer healthier food options and better exercise facilities for travelers who don’t want to fall off the health wagon while on vacation. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts not only offers state-of-the-art cardio and weight-training equipment, but also studio classes and personal trainers. 960 1280
Medical TourismFrom Lasik to knee replacement, the high cost of health care is continuing to push a growing numbers of Americans to go abroad for health care. Perhaps it’s easier to recover from surgery, too, in tropical paradises like Costa Rica and Thailand. 960 1280
Spa Breaks Not Just for WomenSpas aren’t just for the girls anymore. Couples are choosing romantic spa getaways. Don’t worry, guys. Spas are making services more appealing to men, too, with less “girly” options, such as sports massages and gentlemen’s facials. 960 1280
10 Healthy Travel Trends 10 Photos
MauiWith more than 120 miles of coastline, Maui tops Mandy Ingber's list. Channel your inner roar, and strike a warrior pose, as you take in the sights and sounds of the deep blue Pacific splashing against the island’s rocky headlands. 960 1280
Viceroy Bali“I have wanted to travel to Bali, and have seen the pictures of the Viceroy -- luxury resort!” says Ingber. Luxury, indeed: The family-owned-and-operated property on the Indonesian island of Bali is home to 25 villas, nestled on a hill overlooking the “Valley of the Kings.” 960 1280
Harbour Island, BahamasThis island, located off the northeast coast of Eleuthera in the Bahamas, may be a trek to get to, but it’s worth it for the “quaint, sweet town [vibe] and casual, beachy feel,” says Ingber. We’re betting you’ll agree as you stroll past colorful rows of homes and “om” away on the island’s pink sand beaches. 960 1280
GaneshpuriThis small village, about 50 miles north of Mumbai, is “very poor, but soulful and where many gurus have lived and died,” says Ingber. Explore the village’s Siddha yoga tradition at the local ashram, then while away the hours in one of the hot springs near the area’s Tansa River. 960 1280
Kauai“Incredible setting!” says Ingber of this Hawaiian island. “Not only were we in a gorgeous, Bali-style house but the boat ride up the Na Pali Coast is dreamy. Waterfalls and beautiful hikes. So much wild nature here. One of the most bountiful and beautiful places I have been to and taught in.” 960 1280
One & Only Palmilla, MexicoIngber gives this Los Cabos resort overlooking the Sea of Cortez high marks. “I have been here twice, and have had some lovely yoga sessions in this beautiful setting,” says Ingber. “Many of my clients love Mexico because it’s sandy and close -- and we love the sunny weather!” 960 1280
Sha Wellness ClinicThis medical and luxury spa, overlooking Spain’s Costa Blanca coastline, also makes Ingber’s shortlist. A big draw is the surrounding natural beauty; the resort is situated in the Sierra Helada Natural Park, home to protected areas of plants as well as vibrant marine wildlife such as bottlenose dolphins. 960 1280
Aix-en-ProvenceThis region in southern France is another personal favorite; Ingber stayed at a private estate in the country. “We had fresh eggs from the chickens on the property and practiced yoga daily,” she says. “A little sweaty in the summer, but with a farmers’ market and incredible architecture!” 960 1280
Pranamar Villas and Yoga RetreatThis posh oceanfront hotel, built on a stretch of sand near the Costa Rican town of Santa Teresa, came recommended by a friend. “It’s on my wish list,” says Ingber. With 2-story villas built around a saltwater pool, a restaurant with organic fruits and veggies, tropical gardens … ah, we can see why. 960 1280
Best Places to Go "Om" 12 Photos
MonacoIt may be the second-smallest -- and the most densely populated -- country in the world, but Monaco sees the world’s highest life expectancy. It doesn’t hurt that the Western European country, on the French Riviera, is home to the highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capita in the world.
Average Life Span: 89.73 years
Typical Diet: Largely Mediterranean 960 1280
MacauMacau has the second-highest life expectancy in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook. Some point to this Chinese territory’s strong (largely gambling-based) economy -- about 70% of money generated on the casino floor is invested by Macau’s government into healthcare.
Average Life Span: 84.41 years
Typical Diet: Mainly plant- and seafood-based 960 1280
San MarinoThe 30,000 citizens of this tiny microstate, landlocked by Italy, enjoy one of the longest life spans in the world. San Marino has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe, no national debt, a budget surplus, and roughly half its people actively practice their faith -- all possible factors.
Average Life Span: 83.01 years
Typical Diet: Similar to cuisine in Italy's Emilia-Romagna and Marche regions 960 1280
SardiniaSardinia ties with Okinawa for having the highest ratio of centenarians in the world -- 22 centenarians per 100,000 people. The island, 120 miles off Italy’s coast, is home to rugged terrain great for calorie-burning. Come evening, locals enjoy a glass of red wine alongside humor-filled conversation -- in fact, the word “sardonic” originates in Sardinia.
Average Life Span: 81 years
Typical Diet: Plants and beans; sheep cheese and goat’s milk; meat eaten as an accent 960 1280
IcelandIceland has the sixth-highest life expectancy in the world, according to United Nations’ figures. One possible reason is Iceland’s low levels of pollution (geothermal energy reliance is the norm). The country’s low levels of common illnesses, such as heart disease and depression, are also linked to a daily diet rich in fish oil.
Average Life Span: 81.28 years
Typical Diet: Fish; pasture-raised lamb and wild game; black tea, veggies, wild berries and whole grains 960 1280
Loma Linda, CaliforniaJust 60 miles from the fast-paced LA scene, the town of Loma Linda, CA, is home to America’s longest living population -- and some say it’s a matter of faith: Many of the town’s 23,000 residents are members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, a religion whose members typically live 4 to 7 years longer (with more health and happiness) than the rest of the country.
Average Life Span: Well into the 80s
Typical Diet: Vegetarianism is a popular practice among 7th Day Adventists; most restaurants in town accommodate with a vegetarian menu option. 960 1280
OkinawaElderly Okinawans have among the lowest death rates in the world from common diseases -- a fact attributed to a traditional Japanese diet, with only 25% of its sugar and 75% of its grain intake. In recent years, though, younger Okinawans’ move toward fattier foods (Spam is now sometimes added to stir-fries) has led to lower life expectancy.
Average Life Span: 5 times as many Okinawans live to be 100 as their compatriots elsewhere in Japan.
Typical Diet: Lots of fish, soy and legumes 960 1280
AustraliaSurfs up in Australia -- the country now surpasses the UK, Canada, New Zealand and the US in overall life expectancy rates, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. A low smoking rate, coupled with an active lifestyle, is among the reasons. That good fortune isn’t universal, though: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still trail behind.
Average Life Span: For women, 83.7 years; men, 79.2 years
Typical Diet: Shrimp on the barbie, mate! 960 1280
AndorraThis tiny European nation, wedged in quiet isolation between France and Spain, also boasts many long-timers. An active lifestyle, encouraged by some of the best skiing and day hikes in the Pyrenees, is a big reason. So is Andorrans’ focus on family and friends. The influx of tourism (and fast food) is quickening life’s pace, though.
Average Life Span: 82.51 years
Typical Diet: Mediterranean-style, with meat, veggies and fish from Andorra’s larger neighbors 960 1280
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa RicaIn this 75-mile-long stretch of Costa Rica, longevity rules supreme: The 75,000 Nicoyans who call this peninsula home have more than 4 times the chance of making it to 90 than a 60-year-old in America. Maybe it’s because of the area’s relative calm -- it’s home to some of the country’s most isolated and beautiful beaches.
Average Life Span: Well into the 90s
Typical Diet: Meso-American diet includes beans, squash and corn tortilla; also, the area’s calcium- and magnesium-rich water, which strengthens bones and relaxes arteries, is an added benefit. 960 1280
GuernseyThis second-largest island in the English Channel sees a high standard of living -- and long life expectancy. Islanders’ relative wealth may be the reason; it’s the sixth-richest place in the world. Other life-enhancing perks include Guernsey’s low tax rates and high-paying jobs, which afford residents top healthcare options.
Average Life Span: 82.24 years
Typical Diet: Champagne wishes and caviar dreams … come true 960 1280
IsraelIsrael has the fifth-longest life expectancy in the world. The top 3 cities ranked by life expectancy are Ra’anana (85.5 years), Modiin-Maccabim-Reut (84.1) and Beith Shemesh (83.1); the bottom 2 cities are Nazareth (77.9) and Rahat (77.1) -- a gap that’s been narrowing over the past few decades, with a 7-year gain among Israeli Arabs since 1980.
Average Life Span: 81.5 years
Typical Diet: Fusion of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines 960 1280
Ikaria, GreeceBlue Zones author Dan Buettner has called this the “island where people forgot to die.” The 10,000 residents of this island in Greece typically live well into their 90s. Laid-back, daily socializing may be one reason. As one resident told Buettner: “When you invite someone to lunch, they might come at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. We simply don’t care about the clock here.”
Average Life Span: 1 in 3 residents lives into their 90s
Typical Diet: Vegetables from the garden, legumes, greens and lots of olive oil 960 1280
Hong KongIt’s not just remote, slow-paced corners of the world that see long life spans. Hong Kongers are among the longest living people in the world. That’s especially true for Hong Kong’s women, who live longer than most other populations in the world. Experts credit a tradition in Hong Kong of dawn workouts, such as daily swims and morning hikes.
Average Life Span: 86.7 years for women, 80.5 years for men
Typical diet: Cantonese food, big on steamed fish and vegetables 960 1280
SingaporeSingapore ranks as one of the top places in the world for life expectancy – signaling great strides in the country’s public health initiatives and economic opportunity. Over the last 3 decades, Singaporeans have seen their life expectancies increase by 10 years. Adult obesity is around 11% -- far lower than many Western countries.
Average Life Span: 82.14 years
Typical Diet: Mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay cuisines 960 1280
Where People Live the Longest 15 Photos