Scandinavia is located as far north as Alaska. It’s cold, dark, damp, and dreary for nearly nine months out of the year. And when summer does come, it’s often plagued by overcast skies and drizzle.

Yet somehow, year after year, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark rank highest in GNH — “gross national happiness.”

Since it can’t be the weather, why are Scandinavians so much more content than the rest of us? After countless trips to Norway, weekends in Denmark, and spending the last three months in Sweden, here’s what I’ve come up with.

1. Scandinavians travel…a lot!

Like their Viking ancestors, hordes of Scandinavian backpackers and holidaymakers can be found around the world. In fact, the Norwegian government will actually send you on a two-week paid vacation if you’re feeling depressed.

Not only does traveling in the tropics help replenish much-needed vitamin D, but it also renews an appreciation for home, where education and healthcare is free, and the meatballs are always rolling.

2. They keep in touch with family and friends…

There’s a strong sense of connection, trust, and responsibility among family, friends, and even society at large that helps everyone through the good and the bad. According to the Prosperity Index of 2010, 74% of Norwegians believe others can be trusted, a good indicator of a relaxed and happy society.

3. …and nature.

They spend as much time as they can outdoors. Whether they’re water skiing under cold rains, dog sledding through blizzards, or hiking through blueberry fields, they appreciate nature and stay fit doing it.

4. They cook some delicious food.

Fish soup, fresh moose meatballs…Grandiosa frozen pizza? A lean fish and meat diet helps them stay healthy, and the frozen pizza adds just enough fat to weather the winter months. Try the Nacho extra-everything pizza!

5. Everyone’s really attractive.

It’s hard to feel bad when you look good. Not only are Scandinavians blessed with good looks, but they make an effort to look good as well. The best part is, none of them realize how beautiful they really are, making Scandinavia a great place to find a beautiful / handsome date.

As an old Norwegian once explained, “You know why Scandinavians are so good looking? Because we eat fish!”

6. They go to school for free.

Get this — all Scandinavians can get a BA, MA, and PhD for free within all of Scandinavia. And if you’re lucky enough to be Norwegian, the government will even cover tuition fees and provide a stipend to study anywhere in the world. That would sure make me happy.

7. They get three months of sun.

Summer is often pretty rainy, but when the clouds do part the sun can shine all day and all night, depending on how far north you are. Scandinavians take advantage of this by sleeping less, partying more, and picking wild berries till the break of dawn.

8. They take advantage of the cold.

Unlike Americans, who perfect the art covering themselves with blankets of homegrown fat, Scandinavians are just as active in the winter as they are in the summer. Downhill and cross-country skiing are favorites, as well as dog sledding, riding bikes through blizzards, and passing out drunk in the snow. Because, as a Norwegian once said to me, “There is never bad weather, only bad dressing!”

9. They drink a lot…

Like much of Northern Europe, Scandinavians drink a lot. It helps numb them through all those family dinners and against the cold. But although they often drink until they perspire alcohol from every pore, they usually only do so on the weekends, leaving them to be healthy and productive through the workweek. Now that’s a society of productive alcoholics.

10. …and have sex…a lot!

According to Aftenposten, a Norwegian newspaper, Norway has one of the highest rates of one-night stands, followed closely by Denmark and Sweden. Why haven’t I ever had a one-night stand in Scandinavia!?


Based on Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, the equation for happiness goes like this: Perspective-inspiring travel + much-needed sun + strong social network + lots of booze + more sex / harsh winters full of skiing = Nacho Pizza bliss.

That didn’t make much sense, but I know frozen pizza has something to do with it.

This post was originally published at Runaway Guide and is reprinted here with permission.