Can you guess the happiest place on Earth? I'll give you a hint...it's not Disneyland.
According to a five-year Happiness Index study conducted by the Aruba Tourism Authority and the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, 78 percent of the Aruban population would consider themselves happy, while 76 percent feel long-term satisfaction with life.
So does that make Aruba the happiest place on Earth? Quite possibly.
Earlier this year the United Nations released their own 2016 World Happiness Report, ranking 156 countries by their happiness level. You won't find Aruba anywhere on that list – its population is small.
The country ranked the happiest is Denmark. Denmark's happiness percentage? Approximately 75.3 percent, over two percent lower than Aruba, though the methodologies of the two studies differed. The United States was ranked 13th in the 2016 World Happiness Report.
Why is happiness so important?
The idea of Gross National Happiness was introduced by the King of Bhutan in 1972. Since then, several nations – including Bhutan, Ecuador, Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates – have appointed official ministers of happiness to coordinate national efforts for improving happiness through government policy.
“It is important to measure the success of a country beyond economic indicators and to make happiness and well-being an integral part of our national dialogue and intent,” said Otmar Oduber, Aruba Minister of Tourism, Transportation, Primary Sector and Culture.
Happiness is important for travelers as well. "You will always be safe and secure in a place where people are happy and satisfied,” explained Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization.
So what can we learn from the world's happiest countries?
Aruba: Create connections
A 75-year study led by Dr. Robert Waldinger of Harvard University found that meaningful relationships are the key to happiness in life. Aruba, nicknamed One Happy Island, emphasizes such personal connections in their quest to live up to the name. A new public park along the waterfront in Oranjestad, Aruba's capital city, encourages organic encounters between locals and visitors looking for a place to enjoy the Caribbean sunshine.
A new policy on the island has placed a 40-percent cap on all-inclusive resorts – an effort aimed at ensuring visitors to the island are getting off the resort and into local bars, restaurants and shops where they can connect with locals and the local culture.
“Aruba embraces the concept of ‘sharing economy’ and is exploring areas where the sharing economy will add value to the community as well as the visitor,” said Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, CEO of the Aruba Tourism Authority. “As part of this proactive approach, we have entered into discussions with Airbnb, Inc. to formalize a relationship with the online community."
Bhutan: Embrace authenticity
Bhutan, the first country in the world to make national happiness a matter of governmental policy, takes authenticity very seriously in its quest for greater happiness. You won't find Starbucks, McDonald's or even a traffic light in this small Himalayan nation.
You will see Bhutanese wearing their traditional garb to work, and buildings that adhere to national architectural standards. Mindfulness, a pillar of Buddhism, is taught in all schools.
Sustainable tourism is a matter of national policy. Visitors to Bhutan pay a $250-per-night minimum fee – this includes accommodation, food, transportation and a Bhutanese guide – to ensure what Bhutan dubs "Low Volume, High Value" tourism.
Denmark: Champion equality
Denmark has topped the U.N. World Happiness Report three times since the report was introduced in 2012, so it's safe to assume the Danes know a bit about happiness. Eighteenth century Danish thinker Nikolaj Grundtvig once called Denmark a country where "few have too much, and even fewer have too little.”
While taxes are relatively higher than in the U.S., public and private sector corruption is lower, and the costs of healthcare, college education and childcare are shared. "We actually see the less the social differences are, the higher is the average level of well-being in a country," said Romina Boarini with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
A trust in the government and each other, and a healthy work-life balance add to all those Danish smiles.