Iceland consistently sits among the top countries on the World Happiness Report. But how does the population of this little island in the north stay so happy? We’ve got a few ideas.

This year, like last year, Iceland ranks as the fourth happiest nation in the world, not the highest it’s been on the list but still pretty good. Iceland is beat by three other Nordic countries; Norway, Denmark and Finland on top. Quite embarrassingly for Sweden, they are all the way down in seventh place, the least happy of the Nordic countries. 


See also: Health in Iceland


The report, which ranks the happiness of 156 countries, is made by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The countries are awarded or deducted points based on things like; life expectancy of citizens, total value of goods produced, quality of social support and amount of corruption in the country.

The UN SDSN use data from the Gallup World Poll for their report. This year’s survey focused its attentions on technology, social norms, conflicts and government policies which have influenced society in the past few years.

We’ve compiled a list of variables we think have affected Iceland’s happiness.

Nature

Horses

Horses are always happy.

Every list of advice about relaxation and happiness in the history of clickbait includes connecting to nature as a way to de-stress. If there’s one thing Icelanders have, it’s access to nature.

In Iceland, you’re never far from a beautiful place to walk surrounded by nature. Even in Reykjavík city, there are outdoor areas where you can take a stroll and forget all about the hustle and bustle of city life. For example, Elliðaárdalur valley, a peaceful recreational area in the heart of the city.

Many people use these parks to walk their dogs. Pet ownership is fairly common in Iceland and is another way to connect to nature. The charming Icelandic horse is beloved by many and horseback riding is a hobby which brings many Icelandic people closer to nature.

Our geothermal activity is a wonderful gift from nature. We use it to heat our swimming pools which means they can remain open all year round. Swimming, or rather soaking in a hot tub, is many an Icelander’s happy-place.

It is common for Icelandic people to own summer houses, or rent them, for weekend getaways with friends and family. The majority of employees in Iceland can rent a summer house with a considerable discount from their union.

Most summer houses have hot tubs, if soaking in hot water in good company with a view of nature isn’t a recipe for happiness, we don’t know what is.

Diet

Lýsi.

Cod liver oil capsule, a lifesaver. Photo: Lýsi Ísland facebook.

Despite being a nation with a sweet tooth and the biggest consumer of Domino’s pizza in the world, the diet of Icelanders might be a key to their happiness.

For a long time, Icelanders survived by eating the abundant fish in our ocean. Although our consumption habits have changed from daily fish dining, we still eat a lot of fish. 


See also: Food in Iceland


Icelanders commonly eat fish two times a week, which is a lot less than it used to be. Most Icelanders also take cod liver oil– or ‘lýsi’ as it’s called in Icelandic –  as a dietary supplement. Both fish and cod liver oil are full of Omega-3 fatty acids, which might sound rank but are very good for you.

Iceland has slipped down one spot on the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index and is currently in third place. Which might have something to do with Iceland been sliding down the happiness list.

The way for Iceland to get back on top might be to increase our intake of that golden liquid we harvest from cod livers and call ‘lýsi’. At least every grandmother in Iceland will tell you lýsi is the miracle solution to any ailment.

Attitude

Nasa

Satellite image of Iceland in fairly good weather. Photo: Veðurstofa Íslands facebook.

Living on an island with fickle weather and either around the clock light or no sunlight can be tricky. The harsh conditions which Icelanders have had to endure throughout history has made the nation resilient and given us a can-do attitude. 


See also: Weather in Iceland


The Icelandic saying which could be described as the overriding ethos of the nation is “Þetta reddast”. The phase is hard to translate, but the rough meaning of it is: “This’ll all work itself out.”

This can be applied to anything and everything which needs Icelander’s attention. Volcanic eruption? It’ll work itself out. Financial crisis? It’ll work itself out. Rough winter killed all your livestock and starved your children half to death? Everything will work itself out.

The reality of the situation is of course that things do not work themselves out. People need to resolve the issues themselves and they will. But, approaching problems with this nonchalant attitude seems to help Icelanders remain zen in the face of hardships.

Equality

78

Samtökin 78 Gay Pride float. Photo: Samtökin ’78 facebook.

Iceland is a democratic country and often ranks high in surveys focused on equality. We were among the earliest to give women the vote and allow same-sex marriage. But most Icelanders also realise that full-equality has not yet been reached, and continue to fight for it.

One organisation which has done a lot to fight for equality in Iceland is Samtökin 78 (The 78 Organization). Samtökin 78 has been fighting for LGBT+ rights since (you guessed it) 1978. A lot has changed since then, but the organisation still has its work cut out for it. 


See also: Five Icelandic women who rule


Iceland was the first country to democratically elect a female president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. In the past few years, the gender balance in Iceland’s government has been nearly equal. Despite legislation which is meant to prevent it, there is still a gender pay gap in Iceland.

In Iceland, there are many trade unions and special interest groups which actively work to improve conditions for workers and other human rights. Iceland has universal healthcare, which contributes to the health and happiness of Icelandic citizens. The country is a republic, which means the citizens get to vote for who represents them in government.

Per capita pride

Sigur Rós

Sigur Rós in concert. Photo: Flickr, Alive87.

Living in such a small country creates a sense of community. Icelanders are proud of their country whenever anyone Icelandic does well and whenever Iceland is mentioned or noticed.  

Icelanders believe we’re the best… at least per capita. The words per capita literally translate from Latin to ‘by head’ which means you take into account the amount of people in question. If you factor in how few people live in Iceland, we are amazing at a lot of things.

Icelanders are very proud of our musicians, which have been extremely successful, especially per capita. Bands like Sigur Rós and Of Monsters and Men and of course Björk, have worldwide success. Every Icelander feels like they own a little piece of that success. 


See also: The Björk Saga


This national pride was perhaps best displayed at the Men’s Football World Cup last year. It was the first time Iceland qualified, and the nation was beside itself with pride and excitement. It didn’t matter how we did, we made it to the World Cup despite our sparse numbers working against us. Every Viking clap was a victory cry.