America is the richest country on earth. Most of us have more food, clothing, and entertainment than we know what to do with. And yet the U.S. didn't even make the top 10 when WIN/Gallup International released the results of their annual happiness poll. What gives? It turns out there is a lot we can learn from other countries about living the good life—especially our South and Central American neighbors, who claimed five of the top 10 spots (Saudi Arabia was an outlier at number three and China and Iceland tied for number 10).
Colombia's Secret: Play Outdoors
With 87 percent of Colombians saying that they are happy, the coffee country took the top spot for the third year in a row. And it's not just because they're all caffeinated. Thanks to its easy access to both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, locals can play on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. And they have plenty of time to enjoy all that gorgeous scenery, with 18 official public holidays and an average of an extra 15 days of vacation—almost twice that of the U.S. The other Hispanic countries on the list (Argentina, Panama, Mexico and Ecuador; numbers six, seven, eight, and nine, respectively, share that culture of play. And spending time outdoors and having a good work-life balance are two things that research has shown are guaranteed to up your happiness levels.
Fiji's Secret: Small House, Big Family
The island nation came in at a close second with 82 percent of respondents reporting happiness. While their mild weather—the average temperature is a balmy 78 degrees year-round—is certainly a mood booster, you can also credit the country's strong culture of family and relationships for their cheerfulness. Extended families often share a home and almost no one lives alone; placing elderly people in retirement homes is almost unheard of. Considering research has shown that loneliness leads to depression, illness and even early death, it makes sense that Fijians are happier with their full homes.
Azerbaijan's Secret: Get Creative
The tiny country came in fourth on the happiness list and officials there credit their culture's emphasis on the arts as one reason why. Not only do painting, sculpture, music, dance, writing, and other creative arts offer individuals an outlet for stress and a way to express themselves but they say it is key to making people feel unified and connected to their community. Creativity, according to our experts, is a major key to happiness.
Vietnam's Secret: Be Generous
People in the fifth happiest country don't have much—the average person there makes a mere 10 percent of the average American—but they love to share what they've got. The Happy Planet Index reports that they're one of the most generous nations on earth, with people routinely helping out family, friends and tourists alike. And research has shown that helping others is one of the fastest ways to boost your own happiness.