Happiest countries in the world named, but where are the friendliest?

The Swiss are happy, and they have every reason to be. After all, they earn a lot of money, they eat a lot of chocolate and raclette, and they live in the probably the most spectacularly beautiful country in the entire world.

According to the World Happiness Report for 2015, which was released a few days ago, the good people of Switzerland are the happiest on earth. You can just picture the Swissies dancing in the streets right now, waving wads of cash in the air, singing songs, embracing each other, feasting on holey cheese and wurst.

Except, of course, you can't. Because the Swiss aren't that demonstrative in their joy. Neither are most of the nations in the happiness top 10, as it turns out, the likes of Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden. Those guys might be happy, but they're not necessarily going to show it to strangers, particularly travelling strangers like you and me. It's more of a restrained satisfaction.

In fact, as you go down the list you realise that there's often an inverse relationship between a country's happiness and its effusive nature towards visitors. Once you go past the rich, satisfied types and into the supposedly miserable ones, the countries that chart the lowest on the happiness scale, you begin to find some of the friendliest places in the world.

For travellers, it might actually be worth seeking out the supposed sad-sacks.

For example, there are 98 countries that are happier than Laos. Ninety-eight. But anyone who's visited this little south-east Asian state will be able to tell you how amazingly friendly its citizens are. You never feel unwelcome in Laos. You're invited in to private parties; you're asked to join sports games. It's a place of joy.

And once you breeze your way out of the top 100 (where, allegedly, the Russians are slightly happier than the Jamaicans), you get to the real travelling sweet spots.

At number 110 in the world: Iran. Given their country's political instability and crippled economy, Iranians would have every excuse for the odd down-turned lip. However, as a traveller you couldn't hope to visit a friendlier, more welcoming place.

Iranians are effusive in their friendliness – they're generous and sincere, kind and helpful. Strangers are welcome guests. You can't walk a few city blocks in places like Esfahan and Shiraz without someone stopping you to provide their own little official welcome to Iran, and to enquire about your enjoyment of their country. It's amazing. It's uplifting.


Let's work further down the list. At 117, there's India, that most unrestrained of countries, a place where you meet a million people every day, a place where everyone wants a piece of you, whether it's to get to know you or to sell something to you or even just to touch you. There's never a dull moment in supposedly sad India. I'd go there tomorrow.

Myanmar, meanwhile, is down at a lowly 129. They must be pretty emo in Myanmar, you'd think. And the country does have its issues. For travellers, however, you'll never feel anything short of a rock star. They're kind to strangers. They seem happy to see people in their country once again.   

After Myanmar, things get a bit silly. Apparently there are only something like 40 countries in the world – the likes of the DRC and Afghanistan – that are more miserable than Malawi. Malawi? One of the friendliest places in Africa? Maybe they really are dissatisfied with life in general, but for a traveller you'll feel a warm welcome in Malawi. And you'll feel safe.

And then there's Cambodia, the 145th happiest place on Earth, a country where you'd think people would be so busy worrying about their own issues that they wouldn't have time to be welcoming to backpacking strangers in Thai fisherman pants and Angkor beer shirts. And yet, they somehow are. Somehow you feel a sense of kindness in Cambodia, despite its myriad issues. You feel joy.

Of course it's nice to travel to the happy countries. It's great to soak up slices of the good life. But travel experiences aren't all chocolate and raclette. Sometimes the friendliest places are those that supposedly have things the worst.

What are the friendliest countries you've ever visited? How do they rank on the World Happiness scale?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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