Written by Richard Way,
Last Modified: 23rd March 2023

A good indication of a great place to live are contented locals with big smiles on their faces. Unsure where to find that? Start with the annual World Happiness Report, which ranks countries around the world according to how fulfilled their populations are. Here are some findings from this year’s edition.

A balmy climate, good health and a relaxed, affordable lifestyle – would you need much more to enjoy a new life abroad? You might not think so, but it makes a difference if the people around you are content and the nation you have chosen to live alongside is a happy one. Of course, often all these things go hand in hand.

Cue the 2023 World Happiness Report (WHR), a UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network initiative that assesses 150 countries for national happiness. By analysing a representative sample of people, this globally respected study evaluates life satisfaction in each country, looking back across three preceding years.

And without getting too philosophical, it’s not all about the weather, holidays and endless leisure time. Instead, as the report confirms, income (GDP), health, having someone to count on, having a sense of freedom to make key life decisions, generosity, and the absence of corruption all play strong roles in supporting life evaluations.

That the top ten spots are dominated by Nordic and northern European countries (Israel, 4th, is an exception) with Finland in first place (for the sixth year running), followed by Denmark and Iceland, is hardly newsworthy. Perhaps a little surprising is that the UK made 19th, ahead of many European countries. Here are some bits worth shouting about.

New Zealand and Australia

New Zealand couple

New Zealand secured the 10th spot.

Moving down under should be a safe bet for finding happiness. New Zealand and Australia are ranked 10th and 12th respectively in this year’s rankings – higher than any Mediterranean or southern European country.

Looking closer, Dunedin is the happiest place to live in New Zealand, according to the most recent government Quality of Life Survey carried out every two years across New Zealand’s nine largest urban areas, including Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Eighty-five per cent of Dunedin residents think the city is a great place to live – a higher rating than anywhere else in the country. “With marvellous scenery, precious wildlife, rich heritage, a highly educated population, and innovative businesses, it’s no wonder people thoroughly enjoy living here,” said Dunedin’s Mayor.

Queensland is Australia’s happiest state.

Meanwhile, Queensland is Australia’s happiest state, according to a National Australia Bank (NAB) survey. “Queensland’s known as the sunshine state,” said NAB Executive Mark Bayliss. “All those rays and the laidback lifestyle might be among the reasons why it’s Australia’s happiest state.”

The United States

couple smiling California.

Californians wear the biggest grins in America.

The United States is on an upward curve of happiness. This year it achieved a respectable 15th position, up from 16th last year and 19th in 2021! Unsurprisingly, research by various sources shows California as America’s happiest State to live. Six of the cities in a recent survey by SmartAsset were in The Golden State, including Fremont, Sunnyvale and San Jose.



Head to Yonne, Burgundy-Franche-Comté for happiness levels higher than the national average.

France, one of the UK’s favourite places to own a second home and relocate, dropped to 20th from 19th this year (not a disaster when you consider that 10 years ago it was ranked 25th).

A 2022 report by France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) showed that coastal areas of France tend to offer the highest levels of happiness and satisfaction with life.

French departments with a happiness level higher than the national average include: Finistère in Brittany; Loire-Atlantique, Maine-et-Loire and Vendée in Pays-de-la-Loire; Landes and Pyrénées-Atlantiques in Nouvelle-Aquitaine; Hautes-Pyrénées, Ariège, Aude, Aveyron and Gard in Occitanie; Cantal, Haute-Loire, Loire and Haute-Savoie in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes; Doubs and Yonne in Burgundy-Franche-Comté; Haut-Rhin and Moselle in Grand-Est; Seine-Maritime and Manche in Normandy.

Other popular expat destinations

Rankings for other popular expat destinations – and how they compare to 10 years ago, include: United Arab Emirates (Dubai) 26th , down from 14th in 2013; Spain 32nd, up from 38th in 2013; Italy 33rd, up from 45th in 2013; Cyprus 46th, down from 34th in 2013.

Countries with significant improvements

woman smiling in Portugal

Happiness levels are improving in Portugal.

Two destinations that have seen dramatic improvements over the past decade are Portugal and Greece. The former is ranked 56th this year, compared to 85th in 2013, while the latter is 58th, up from 70th in 2013. Let’s hope this rise continues.

Results are overall positive, despite a difficult few years…

Let’s end on a happy note! Encouragingly, despite the unusual number of global crises between 2020 and 2022, including the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, the global energy crisis, high inflation and war in Ukraine, most populations around the world continue to be remarkably resilient, said the report. They base this conclusion on the fact that global life evaluation averages remain just as high as those in the pre-pandemic years of 2017 to 2019.

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