We understand the concept of Happy individuals and Happy communities, but have you heard about Happy cities?

Rapid urbanization poses many problems for city residents as the population in urban areas continues to expand. Several things can contribute to this, such as a lack of proper infrastructure, lack of social cohesion, poor air quality, etc. However, they can improve the quality of life for residents if addressed well, thus rendering them happy.

The World Happiness Report ranks cities based on their subjective well-being, as measured by the Gallup World Poll. This article refers to the list as the Happiness Index and articulates the social, cultural, and environmental aspects that may contribute to happiness in the top 15 cities.

1. Helsinki, Finland

The Finnish capital Helsinki has topped the Happiness Index for years.

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Helsinki_©Subodh Agnihotri


A happy life in Helsinki is based on social equality, including service availability, service quality, and public engagement. In Finland, there is ‘a sense of full satisfaction and security’ as per the people. Helsinki has been called one of the world’s most functioning cities for its well-organized systems and neighborhoods. Work-life balance is also achieved thanks to the city’s efficient public transit system that reduces travel time.


Helsinki’s high quality of life is aided by its cultural infrastructure, including many concert halls, music theatres, and public libraries. The city invites self-driven community organizations to use its space more casually and playfully.

Helsinki is developing smart and digital urban solutions to save energy, improve mobility and quality of life.

2. Aarhus, Denmark

Otherwise known as the “City of Smiles”, Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city, ranks second on the Happiness Index.

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Aarhus is a small city where residents know and care about one another. They treat everyone equally, whether they’re a CEO or a garbage collector. Additionally, the city is home to renowned institutions that offer free education and healthcare.

Aarhus is a medieval Viking city formed around Aarhus Cathedral in 750. It is full of beautiful architecture, vintage lifestyles, and a wide range of restaurants, from Michelin-starred to traditional to contemporary Nordic food.  

Residents enjoy the city’s proximity to the sea and forest. Walking and cycling to work in Aarhus contribute to sustainability.

3. Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington, the only non-European city in the Top Five of the Happiness Index, is lauded for combining small-town friendliness and convenience with big-city resources and excitement. 

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Wellington_©Lucas W.


#7 in Safe Cities Index 2021.

#2 in Deutsche Bank Quality of Life Survey

There are many ways to travel across the region by train, bus, or ferry although it is easy to commute by bike, foot, or scooter in this little city. The country’s educational system is among the greatest in the world (OECD).


Wellington, dubbed a culinary and creative center, is all about lifestyle, a town where people work to live, not vice versa.


The City Council has an eco-city wing, promoting sustainable homes, low-carbon transportation, sustainable food efforts, and waste reduction.


4. Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich, Switzerland’s capital, is a global financial center. Its past is maintained in the “Old Town” and its future is protected on the other side of the city. 

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Zurich_©Aleksandar Georgiev


It is a development and research hub, with two world-class institutions, has excellent public transit, and a high standard of living. The Swiss are usually healthy, with one of the world’s lowest obesity rates and a long-life expectancy.


Zurich is a global center for the arts and sciences, where tradition meets futuristic thinking. It currently attracts young talents from Switzerland and internationally, creating a diverse population. The cultural centers, exhibition spaces, and recurrent events provide a cultural program for Zurich’s mixed culture.


The surroundings are calm and magnificent, making achieving a work-life balance simpler in Zurich. 

5. Copenhagen, Denmark

Ranking high on the Happiness Index, Copenhagen draws many visitors to see Europe’s best works of art. 

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Copenhagen places first in the Safe Cities Index 2021. 

It is also a world-renowned model of excellent urban development methods. The modern architecture, appealing public spaces, and bustling human activity define its vibrant mixed-use city core.


Scandinavia’s cultural capital is preserved thanks to considerable infrastructural and cultural investments and a new generation of Danish architects, designers, and chefs. The art, literature, and 15 Michelin-starred restaurants also speak volumes about the city culture.


The city is planned such that a park or beach is within a 15-minute walking distance for all inhabitants. Copenhagen is also the world’s most bicycle-friendly city, contributing to a greener environment.

6. Bergen, Norway

Bergen, with its colorful wooden houses, scenic views, and beautiful Norwegian Fjords makes it to the top of the Happiness Index! 

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Trading dates back to the 1020s in Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city. Aquaculture, shipping, offshore oil, and subsea technology are among the world’s most well-known industries in Bergen, and it is also known for higher education, journalism, tourism, and finance.


With its old castles, timber structures, and ports exuding history, UNESCO recognizes Bergen as a World Heritage Site. The picturesque streets complement the many architectural styles of the city, including Medieval, Art Nouveau, and Contemporary.


Bergen is known as the ‘gateway to the fjords’ because of its beautiful waterfalls and steep mountains. Its main attractions are the Hanseatic Wharf and the fish market, surrounded by the seven mountains.

7. Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway’s capital, is one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in! 

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The residents of Oslo believe they are being cared for, owing to universal healthcare and free college tuition. With an average workweek of 38 hours, they have a work-life balance. The city also has a low crime rate and a strong sense of community.


Established in the 1040s, the city of Oslo had to be relocated, owing to a fire in 1624. Oslo boasts of museums, restaurants, Nobel peace centers, and operas of world-class acclaim. 


Oslo is probably the only place that is one-third urban, and two-thirds woods, parks, and natural areas. It allows residents to enjoy city life while enjoying outdoor activities like hiking and riding.

8. Tel Aviv, Israel

The economic and technological center of Israel, Tel Aviv, is the most expensive city, yet it is in the top 15 of the Happiness Index! 

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Tel Aviv_©Boris B


Founded in only AD 1909, as a Jewish suburb of Arab Jaffa, the city has made the most progress as any other. 


Having the highest concentration of International Style buildings in the world (around 4000), the White-city in Tel-Aviv is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These include Bauhaus and other modernist architectural styles.  


Tel Aviv’s sustainable initiatives include a water-saving campaign that offers free parking to homeowners who use the least water per person, converting an abandoned power station into an eco-friendly public park, and turning an old rubbish dump into an attraction.

9. Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm comprises 14 magnificent islands linked by 55 lovely bridges. 

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The city has an extensive transportation system, including the City Line, an eco-friendly, 6-kilometer-long commuter train tunnel. 


The region has been inhabited since the Stone Age (BC 6th Century), while Stockholm was formed in 1252. Many people consider Stockholm’s streets as a work of art.


One of the reasons Stockholm ranks high on the Happiness Index is its eco-friendly approach towards all initiatives. Awarded the European Green Capital Award for its local transportation, waste, and water consumption, Stockholm is one of the world’s cleanest cities. The city’s environmental policy intends to eliminate fossil fuel usage by 2050 and reduce CO2 emissions per capita by 25%.

10. Brisbane, Australia

Ranking 10th on the Happiness Index is the city of Brisbane, the capital of Queensland. 

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Brisbane is connected through buses, trains, and green cabs. The low crime rate in the city has made it the world’s seventh safest city. It is also home to a world-renowned university, the University of Queensland.


Brisbane is famous for its marketplaces like fashion streets, handicrafts markets, or Eat Street Markets. The Gallery of Modern Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Museum of Brisbane, and Science Centre are all located here.


Brisbane’s biodiversity is well-known, with over 2000 parks and 2500 plant species. The city is noted for its cliffs, offering spectacular views of the Captain Cook Bridge, the City Botanical Gardens, and the river. Brisbane is Australia’s first city to be ranked on the Sustainable Cities Mobility Index. 

11.San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose is one of the best cities in Latin America to settle in. Having a ‘Pura Vida’ or ‘pure life’ motto, the city ranks #11 on the Happiness index. 

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San Jose_©www.getyourguide.com


San José is a relatively walkable city, and you can get about simply on foot. The city’s complete bus system is quite affordable and user-friendly.


The city is easy to navigate on foot while exploring the hole-in-the-wall eateries, local street vendors, and the city’s finest markets. It is also an eco-friendly destination, and hence environmentalism is a part of the culture.


Due to the city’s mountainous terrain and proximity to mountains, people often see sights of verdant peaks in the background. 

12. Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital may only have 123,000 residents, but what it lacks in population, it makes up for in culture and excitement. 

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Reykjavik_© Flor Asef


Reykjavik is one of the most business-friendly cities in the world. It is a great city to live in, with excellent safety standards, healthcare, and environmental quality.


Reykjavik offers a thriving cultural and design sector, with an abundance of adventure trips, dynamic nightlife, contemporary museums, along with world-class restaurants, galleries, boutiques, pubs, and clubs.


The city exhibits some of the island’s most magnificent natural marvels, including the famed Blue Lagoon geothermal resort, the Northern Lights, and the Golden Circle, with spouting geysers, waterfalls, and rift valleys.

13. Toronto Metro, Canada

Despite transit issues and high property prices, Canada’s largest city makes it to the Happiness Index. 

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Toronto_©Harrison Haines


Along with technology, the city’s economy is diverse, including culinary services and environmental innovation. Toronto is famous for its skyscrapers, notably the CN Tower. Residents of the nation also enjoy free healthcare and inexpensive education costs!


Toronto is a global hub for business, economics, arts, and culture and one of the world’s most multicultural and cosmopolitan cities, with immigrants from more than 200 ethnic origins.


With community involvement and innovative policies and programs, Toronto aims to be one of the world’s most environmentally friendly cities. It implements Community Energy Planning (CEP) for integrating local energy solutions at the building or community size.

14. Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne is declared one of the best cities in the world. (Time Out City Rankings

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Melbourne_ ©Pat Whelen


Melbourne has a robust economy, all public transit within the central business district is free, and Melbournians exercise more than residents of any other city on the planet, all of which contribute to the city’s high ranking on the Happiness Index. 


In Time Out’s list of the most livable cities in the world, Melbourne is praised for its street arts and vibrant live music. People agree “there’s always something to do or see,” a reflection of the city’s dynamic arts, entertainment, and sports culture. 


The city’s many parks and open public spaces provide ample opportunities for the residents to relax.

15. Perth, Australia

Perth, last in the top 15 of the Happiness Index, is one of the most isolated cities in the world. 

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Perth is exceptionally clean (trains are spotless), green, and boasts an untouched riverfront setting. Accessibility is easy as everything around the city is a 20-minute drive away.


Amongst the steel skyscrapers are some true gems, like the stunning Tudor, and Victorian-style structures that provide this city its touch.


The beaches spanning across the enormous coastline, parks with a range of flora, fauna, and hiking trails define the tranquil environment in the city.


Worldhappiness.report. 2021. Cities and Happiness: A Global Ranking and Analysis. [online] Available at: <https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2020/cities-and-happiness-a-global-ranking-and-analysis/> [Accessed 3 December 2021].


A firm believer of the fact that happy, thriving, and sustainable places are all the same, Reshika strives to build environments that promote individual well-being. Her work as an architect is driven by the desire to attain spatial and urban contentment, and it is in the intersection between this ideation and pragmatism that she contends her quest.

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