9:00 PM | January 17 2017

'Happy' hunting

We travel to Reykjavik to discover why Iceland is rated as one of the happiest countries in the world.

A small country in the North Atlantic, with a remote geographical position and a reputation for cold, dark, rainy days is probably not the first place you would imagine to find some of the happiest people in the world.

Yet Iceland features regularly at the pointy end of the annual World Happiness Report, and placed third in 2016. 

Travelling in the comfortably happy confines of a Volvo XC90, we set off for the capital Reykjavik to find out why.

The weather in Iceland changes like … well, the weather in Melbourne. During the first couple of days alone we are treated to an exhilarating mix of snow, rain, hail, gales and sunshine. Iceland's landscape also appears to be ever changing – much like the concept of happiness itself. 

Peoples’ idea of happiness depends on whom you talk to and where they come from, but how is it defined by the people of Iceland?

"Happiness is a difficult concept to define, and open to individual interpretation,” says Óttar Guðmundsson, psychiatrist at the Kleppsspitali Psychiatric Hospital in Reykjavik. “But for most of us, happiness is being healthy, living in a safe society, taking care of our loved ones and having a purpose in life. The feeling that we have a role to play in society, and what we do benefits others, this makes us happy.”

Guðmundsson says Iceland’s miniscule population – just over 300,000 – is also a significant factor (Denmark and Switzerland, which were first and second in last year’s World Happiness Report, also have relatively small populations). 

“As there are so few of us, we see ourselves as kings of our own little world.” 

Many researchers claim that humans are programmed to look for happiness. Being happy is part of our natural make-up; most of us have a strong and deep positive energy inside us, even if training and guidance is sometimes needed for it to surface and develop. Meditation and positive thinking are some popular paths towards the achievement of happiness. 

Nature also has a significant impact on our well-being. This might be why the inhabitants of Iceland are so happy. The country is full of stunning scenery, such as glaciers, waterfalls, geysers and volcanoes, as well as rich in beautiful wildlife.

Studies reveal we also interpret the concept of happiness in different ways depending on age: older adults measure happiness in terms of life satisfaction, while younger adults define it much more in terms of exhilarating activities and feelings of euphoria. 

Of course, there is one way of measuring happiness regardless of where we come from or how old we are. And that is to ask: “Are you happy?” So we take our own advice and do just that.


View the rest of our our January I Roll Stories.

I Roll

Volvo is Latin for 'I roll' and was originally trademarked in 1915 with ball bearing production in mind. But 18 million cars later, Volvo has come to mean much more. 

Volvo started making cars in 1927 because we believed nobody else was making them strong enough or safe enough for Swedish roads. Along the way we’ve come up with dozens of innovations, some of which have changed the world. And it’s this proud history that continues our drive forward to the next great Volvo Cars idea.