1: Rio de Janeiro

2: Sydney

3: Barcelona

4: Amsterdam

5: Melbourne

6: Madrid

7: San Francisco

8: Rome

9: Paris

10: Buenos Aires



The 10 Happiest Cities In The World

What makes these cities’ residents happier than anywhere else?

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.

[All Images: Shutterstock]

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  • I can understand why Rio De Janeiro comes first- people don't want to think about the social mess that is. It is easier to get drunk and stoned than fighting for social justice. A country that doesn't care about its children should deserve no respect.

  • Koen Oosterbroek

    Amsterdam is just there for the coffee shops?.. Wow Ariel, time to broaden your horizon and get over your stigma's

  • Brice de Matharel

    Singapore or Dubaï may soon show up in the ranking! Their shopping centers are bigger than everywhere else.


    There is NOTHING in those cities, NOTHING ... Dubai and Singapore ??? OMG, so far from what a full and happy life is in some European cities ...

  • Brice de Matharel

    Singapore or Dubaï may show up in the ranking soon with all their shopping centers

  • lovely1000

    I also was put off at the blatant stab at the U.S.  These surveys are already subjective and useless enough (albeit fun to read) without the presenter of the information being just as biased.  The U.S. (a country) was compared against the happiness of three different continents... really!?!? When in actuality, according to this survey, only two countries had more than one city on the list.  Not to mention that Spain is widely known for it's relaxed culture and worldview ('no pasa nada' anyone).  So really, the U.S. faired pretty well and is a comparatively happy country (yes, the happiness of the U.S. as a whole was questioned even though this is a survey on individual cities). 

  • Novirusinco

    Madrid would be my favorite from that list. I've spent more time in Spain than any other European country. oth of my trips to Madrid were thoroughly enjoyable.

    Woodson Taylor, Denver, Colorado

  • DV

    Clearly the author did not use validated surveys of happiness as have been developed in the psychology literature.  This seems more about promoting tourism, as shopping and attractions have less to do with a person's and country's happiness than strong personal relationships.

  • Craig

    The title and the content are quite badly mismatched! A big assumption has been made in linking "happiness" with "things to do" in a city, according to the infographic. Is that what happiness really is? Shopping? Having coffee? Amusing ourselves? 

  • Dean

    Yeah it seems this is a list generated from all the other lists that include the same cities. Aussies don't really like living in Sydney as the traffic is bad and housing prices are too high. Perth ought to be considered as it has a booming economy. Perth has the highest amount of Harleys for anywhere in the world per capita which is a result of great roads, great weather and disposable cash. Perth probably is the Dubai of Australia and will be for the next 20 years. Around 30% of the population rides a bicycle at least once a week. Although I hate it as it lacks innovation so I will move to Melbourne.

  • Chris

    Whenever these studies come out, Americans (I'm one too) tend to get real up in arms. A lot of "oh yeah, well what's the employment / GDP / healthcare / etc. like in these supposedly happy countries." Most (not all) of them, if you look at the statistics, live longer and rate themselves as happier than us. No one claims that they're better than us. 

  • Carioca

    Lived in Rio de Janeiro 20 years (was actually born there) and left after realising that one thing is to VISIT and another is to LIVE.

    Things have improved there, but before:
    1 - Terrible crime rates
    2 - Bad traffic and nonexistant public transportation
    3 - VERY expensive
    4 - Too much povery and slums
    5 - Ridiculous levels of bureocracy and widespread incompetence

    I live in Madrid now (spaniard as well) and I'm MUCH happier, thank you.

    Still, I am a weird carioca, as they are able to be happy despite all those flaws. It's quite remarkable actually.

    So, the reason is because is in this list is NOT because of the town, but because of its people.

  • Hkb000

    I do not know from what perspective these judgements were made: certainly not from the perspective of the average person who is struggeling for a decent living!

    There seems to be the stronger arguments on the side of those who name the whole thing a lot of bullshit, at best travel-agency anecdotes

  • Lavender

    The happiest cities in the world? You include Barcelona and Rio in that list? Interesting, considering the massive unemployment rates and anti-austerity uprisings in Spain, and the entrenched poverty in Brazil. Go to a slum in Rio De Janeiro and tell me if those people are happy. Poor choice of words for the title.

  • You=clueless

    You obviously think that the ONLY thing that makes people happy is MONEY and you have never been in Rio or have at the most spent a week or so. People in Rio are happy DESPITE their problems and poverty. That's actually a life lesson for you.

  • Omweg

    think the key issue is that it is based on perception. In other words, these
    cities have not been voted 'happy' by its inhabitants but rather by people who
    don't live there but have visited or would like to visit, based on perception.

    Having lived in Amsterdam for nine years and now in London for seven years, I
    can tell you that there is a distinct pattern between perception and reality.

    Amsterdam has a high quality of life overall, good work/life balance, many
    cultural amenities and is very compact (no hour-long commute, a 20 min
    cycle-ride at-most). The coffee-shop thing is barely relevant as very few locals
    smoke weed. It is mainly a tourist attraction.


    issue can be found in London. It has many attractions for tourists, has its
    beautiful parts and is very impressive overall. Living in London is entirely
    different, everything is ridiculously expensive, commutes of 90 minutes or more
    on a creaking London Underground are not uncommon and it’s fairly dirty and
    intense. Not for tourists, though, who don’t have to earn their living there,
    are not fussed by a 20-min delay on their journey or worried about having to
    spend ten times their annual salary to buy a tiny house in a bad neighbourhood.
    Funnily enough, London Underground is often voted the world’s best public
    transport system. By tourists. Most locals won’t even put it in a top twenty…