The U.S. is a pretty unhappy place compared to Europe, Australia, and South America. That’s according to a survey of 10,000 people in 29 countries from market research company GfK Custom Research. Conducted in 2009, the Anholt-GfK Roper City Brands Index, claims that San Francisco is the only U.S. city to crack the list of the 10 happiest cities in the world. Who else came out on top, and why?
Rio de Janeiro is at the top of the list for its many outdoor and cultural attractions, shopping centers (is that really a measure of happiness?), performances, and general amusement. Sydney comes in second for many of the same reasons, and Barcelona rounds out the top three—mainly because of its extensive shopping. Rio and Barcelona seem like traditional choices, but Sydney makes it because of its general Australia-ness, according to Simon Anholt, who conducted the survey. "It’s where everybody would like to go," he told Forbes. "Everybody thinks they know Australia because they’ve seen Crocodile Dundee. There’s this image of this nation of people who basically sit around having barbecues."
Amsterdam, Melbourne, and Madrid come in next. You’ll notice that Amsterdam seems to be there because of one reason: its "coffee shops," which are not coffee shops, but rather marijuana dispensaries.
Oddly enough, San Francisco also makes it onto the list largely because of its shopping centers. I can’t speak to this entire list, but as a resident, that’s probably the last thing I’d mention as a reason for the city’s overall happiness. Traditional picks—Rome, Paris, and Buenos Aires—follow close behind.
The Anholt-GfK Roper City Brands Index is based on perception—that is, the world’s population perceives Rio as the happiest city. But there are objective factors we can take into account when looking at happy cities and countries. Last year, Columbia University’s Earth Institute released the first World Happiness Report, looking at happiness in the world and the science behind it. Some of the findings: Rich people are happier than poor people, but social supports and personal freedom matter; there’s a positive correlation between happiness and self-employment in the American and European data (but not in South America); mental health is the biggest contributor to happiness in all countries; and a lack of perceived equality cuts down on happiness.
Judge for yourself whether the cities on this list meet those criteria (or how much shopping they have). And if you want to zoom out a little and check out the world’s happiest countries, we’ve got a story on that too.
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