The happiest places to live in the world

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It seems as if we're on a constant quest for happiness these days. If it's not David Cameron's (now defunct) Happiness Index research into the well-being of the nation, it's the UN trying to gauge whereabouts in the world we're most happy, and why.

Of course, collective happiness is an elusive metric to judge and can vary according to all sorts of factors.

Job growth, high life expectancy, low crime, community spirit, social support and freedom of expression can all contribute to a sense of well-being and happiness in a particular place. But so too can open spaces, good amenities and close family networks.

With that in mind, we've pulled together a few of the happiest places to live in the world right now. From carefree, liberal Denmark to the positive outlook of the people of Panama, read on to find out more...

The happiest town in Britain: Harrogate

The pretty spa town of Harrogate

As far as the UK is concerned, the picturesque North Yorkshire town of Harrogate is the place to be for happiness. A 2014 survey by property website Rightmove ranked Harrogate top after questioning 50,000 people about how content they were with their home and local community.

The town's safety, its sense of neighbourliness and recreation were among the top reasons listed by residents when explaining why they were happy there.

Councillor Michael Newby, Mayor of the Borough of Harrogate, said: "The district has some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK, if not in Europe and beyond.

"There is also a great community feel, which certainly makes life a lot happier for many people."

Helen Suckling, from the local council's tourism service, agrees.

"There's a unique combination of an elegant Georgian town with a very cosmopolitan mix of shops and a cafe culture, and lots of open spaces," she told the Guardian. "Most people are very happy to live here."

Inverness in Scotland came second in the survey, with Ilford, Croydon, East Central London and Twickenham all listed among the most unhappy places to live within Britain.

The happiest area of London: Kingston

Kingston town centre

A 2012 study found leafy Kingston-upon-Thames to be the happiest place to live in London. Again commissioned by Rightmove (these guys are hot on the happy factor), the survey questioned 2,700 Londoners about all sorts of factors, from how friendly their neighbours were to how safe they felt, the quality of local shops and other amenities, and how much they enjoyed living in their own homes.

Kingston rated highly because of its abundance of green open space, good pubs, shops and restaurants.

Oliver Pearson, of Gibson Lane estate agents in Kingston, said: "You have Richmond Park on one side, the Thames on the other. People move here for the good schools."

Ros Morgan, Chief Executive of Kingstonfirst, said: "Kingston is a great place to live and work.

"It offers the ultimate shopping experience, with 500 town centre stores combining a host of big name retailers combined with an unrivalled selection of independent stores.

"It is no surprise that people enjoy living here with such great attractions on their doorstep such as one of the most attractive parts of the River Thames, Hampton Court, the Rose Theatre and the Ancient Market Place."

Kingston aside, the survey found that the happiest London postcodes were located in the north-west of the capital, in neighbourhoods such as Hampstead, Camden, and Belsize Park. The unhappiest postcodes were located in east London, including Ilford and Romford.

Those neighborhoods that were ranked happier also tended to be wealthier, with far higher house prices than their "unhappy" counterparts. However, money isn't always a deciding factor in happiness - as the next study highlights...

The country with the most positive emotions: Panama

Relaxing in a hammock at dusk on one of Panama's picture-perfect San Blas Islands

Money can't buy happiness, an adage that seems to be supported by a 2012 Gallup poll which revealed that people in seven developing Latin American nations were among the most likely to report being happy and feeling positive about life.

Ranked right at the top was Panama, a country where about 33% of the population live below the poverty line and the average life expectancy for men is 74 years, rising to 79 years for women.

To measure the relative happiness of residents in 148 countries, Gallup called roughly 1,000 people in each country and asked about their experiences the day before. People were asked if they smiled a lot yesterday, if they felt respected all day, if they were well-rested and if they learned or accomplished something interesting.

The countries that reported the highest rates of "yes" answers to these questions were Panama and Paraguay, with an 85 percent positive rate each. El Salvador and Venezuela were next, followed by Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Guatemala, the Philippines, Ecuador and Costa Rica.

The U.S., Germany and France all ranked further down the list in 33rd and 47th joint place respectively. Unsurprisingly, war-torn countries like Iraq and Afghanistan came bottom of the poll.

Gallup has repeated its survey every year since, and Paraguay has led the world in terms of positive emotions each year.

Some commentators put the results down to Panama and other similar Latin American countries boasting positives such as close family, friend and religious networks - despite daily lives that are often rife with poverty and social injustice.

"Overall, I'm happy because this is a country with many natural resources, a country that plays an important role in the world," Panama resident Carlos Martinez told the Mail. "We're people who like to celebrate, to eat well and live as well as we can. There are a lot of possibilities here, you just have to sacrifice a little more."

The happiest nation in the world: Denmark

A Danish Free Hugs campaign

Time and again Denmark makes it to the top spot in international happiness surveys, reasserting our vision of a free-thinking, carefree Scandinavian paradise. While the truth is no doubt more complex, there's no denying that Danes consistently rank themselves highly in terms of freedom to make life choices and social support.

The World Happiness Report 2013, published by the Earth Institute at Columbia University, found Denmark to be the world's happiest nation based on a "life evaluation score" that took into account factors such as income (measured by log of GDP per capita), healthy life expectancy at birth, freedom to make life choices, social support, corruption and generosity.

Its findings tally with a European Commission ‘Eurobarometer’ set up in 1973 to find out about issues affecting its citizens. Amazingly, Denmark has come top of this metric for happiness and well-being every year since then.

"The great thing about Danish society is that it doesn’t judge other people’s lives," says Aarhus Business School Professor of Economics Christian Bjørnskov, who wrote a PHD on the subject of happiness. "It allows them to choose the kind of life they want to live, which is sometimes not always possible in other countries, so this helps add to the overall satisfaction of people living here."

Denmark's low unemployment rate and relatively healthy economy are also thought to be important factors in contributing to an overall sense of satisfaction in Europe.

In the 2013 Columbia University study, other Northern European countries including Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden also ranked towards the top of the list when it came to the happiness of its citizens.

The happiest country outside Europe: Canada

People take an evening stroll along Ogden Point Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

With its beautiful landscapes, laid-back ambiance and beguiling blend of French and Anglo cultures, it's little wonder Canada is rated as a wonderful place to live. Coming second only to Denmark (above) in last year's UN Happiness Survey, Canadians ranked highly when it came to life satisfaction.

Results indicated that between 2003-2011, a massive nine out of 10 Canadians (or 93.2 percent) reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their lives.

A high standard of living and level of health is seen as one of the biggest reasons behind this level of contentedness. Canada has one of the longest life expectancies in the world, although the survey did note a slight discrepancy in happiness between rural and urban areas - people tended to be less happy in large cities like Vancouver or Toronto, possibly because of stresses such as commuting and traffic jams.

So what do Canadians on the street make of this happiness assessment?

"Canada is a safe, fun country to live in; I’d rather live here than anywhere else," Shelly François, a Canadian business administration student, told the Ottawa Citizen.

Michelle Dupras, a graphic designer, added: "I think Canadians are fairly lucky with the opportunities we have and everything seems very stable compared to other countries.

"The only thing I have to say is: I’m tired of the winter."

The happiest state in America: North Dakota

Double rainbows over the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota

North Dakota made a leap-jump from 19th place to number one in Gallup's annual ranking of the happiest states in America this year, knocking longtime favourite Hawaii off the top spot.

This Midwestern state has seen a boom in job growth over the past few years, with a burgeoning oil industry and the sixth-highest per-capita personal income in America. It also boasts a good education status, with 91.7% of state residents holding a high school diploma - the fifth highest rate in the country.

Taxes in North Dakota are also relatively low since the state has a tax specifically targeting oil and gas production, allowing the government to greatly reduce property taxes at a local level.

A few more added bonuses to this area include good air quality and a low rate of violent crime.

"I’ve lived in southern California and eastern, western, and mid-North Carolina too, and this is by far my favorite place that I’ve lived," says North Dakota resident Rachel E Kelly. "Everyone is so friendly, there’s some kind of hope here that permeates every one of my senses and makes my thoughts buoyant.

"I’ve fallen in love with the sky and every morning that I leave my house to take my kids to school, I look at the eastern horizon where the sun performs its ritual peep show over the edge of the basin."

What do you think? Where is the happiest place to live in the world according to your own experience? Let us know on Twitter or in the comment section below.

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