Advice from One of the World's Happiest Countries

May 16, 2014

For years, Iceland has been high on the list of countries I’d like to visit. I want to soak in the Blue Lagoon  meet an Icelandic horse, and I’d love to explore a place that is consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world. Despite a devastating financial crash in 2008, erupting volcanoes, and dark winters, Iceland currently ranks 9th in the World Happiness Report (the U.S. ranks 17th). There are certainly many factors involved, but one has got to be an emphasis on the factors that strengthen mental health.

The Blue Lagoon (photo courtesy briongloid)
More than 10 years ago, Reykjavik psychologist Dora Gudrun Gudmundsdottir knew that Iceland was consistently ranked as one of the world’s happiest nations, but she could find no studies on happiness in her country. She was curious about what factors predicted happiness. She found that the best predictor for happiness was not money, as many people believed, but social relationships (living with and/or spending time with a partner, friends or family). A second important predictor was health, especially mental health. This prompted her and her colleagues at the Public Health Institute to launch a public campaign to encourage better mental health and greater happiness among Iceland’s citizens. After studying research literature for common strategies and characteristics of people generally considered happy and successful, the result was the “Ten Commandments of Mental Health,” phrases that remind people what they can do every day to strengthen their mental health, and thus increase their happiness. The Public Health Institute of Iceland sponsored lectures and a media campaign, and sent a refrigerator magnet displaying “The Ten Commandments of Mental Health” to every household in the country. (Magnets were available in English for foreigners who couldn’t read Icelandic). Curious about the ten? Here they are:
  1. Think positively; it’s easier
  2. Cherish the ones you love
  3. Continue learning as long as you live
  4. Learn from your mistakes
  5. Exercise daily; it enhances your well-being
  6. Do not complicate your life unnecessarily
  7. Try to understand and encourage those around you
  8. Do not give up; success in life is a marathon
  9. Discover and nurture your talents
  10. Set goals for yourself and pursue your dreams 
So much that contributes to happiness is within our own power—we just need the occasional reminder. (And if I ever get to Iceland, I’d love to snag one of those magnets!)

Do you have any “commandments” regarding mental health and happiness?

Icelandic horse (photo courtesy Ida Lindell)

You Might Also Like


  1. Kathy great information...wonder what country is #1 in the world for happiest? Just goes to show that material things don't really matter in the big scheme of things...always the spiritual part of us wins hands down! Take care and have a great week-end.

  2. Debbie--In this particular report, Denmark is the happiest country. Hope you have a very happy weekend!