Iceland Airwaves Culture Preview: Why Is Iceland So Happy? (LISTEN)

We’re headed cover Iceland Airwaves Music Festival and other cultural stories beginning Sunday, 10/30! Follow along on our adventures via our Iceland Airwaves 2016 daily blog and hear an Icelandic cultural preview interview below.

Happiness is such an abstract topic that when the annual World Happiness Report  gets released many of the results may come as a surprise. Take for instance that the United States, a major world super power, is only ranking at 13 with several smaller countries listed above it. In the last few years, Iceland has been in the top 5 countries and in 2016 it ranked at number 3. But how does a country become overall happier? The answers may be hidden within a country in the middle of the Atlantic.

Every year the United Nations conducts a survey of around 150 countries that measures happiness. It weighs things like the per capita Gross Domestic Products or value of all goods made within a country. It also measures social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, trust and generosity. But despite all the concrete evidence that influences the general happiness of the populous, how does this look in real life?

Well, in Iceland The Íslandsbanki bank predicts the decade’s highest per capita GDPs and lowest unemployment rates for the next two years.  This is due to the anticipated increase in tourism and industry throughout the country. This is important because when more people are working and stimulating the economy, Iceland will continue to develop but happiness can not all be attributed to a good financial position.

Iceland is also forward thinking on social issues, like gender equality and promise for more opportunities for women in the workplace and higher education.  These factors and others, like their emphasis on art and culture, give insight into Iceland’s higher ranking on the report than the U.S.

Sigríður Guðmundsdóttir is the director of The Settlement Center, a historical center in Iceland, and tutor at The Iceland Academy.  She says there are many things Iceland offers like valuing quality of life over money.  She also believes the volatile nature of Iceland’s environment is very closely linked to the social atmosphere.

Less than 150 years ago, most Icelanders were poor and living in the countryside. But in the 20th century, things changed: Iceland industrialized. Even with its evolution from a farming to manufacturing society, Guðmundsdóttir says the close knit, small town mentality still exists even in Iceland’s biggest cities.

It is much harder for Americans to be as optimistic when there are such diverse social, political, and economical classifications. For America and other countries who rank lower on the happiness scale, a greater sense of community may help lead the way to happiness.



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