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If, as Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, happy families are all alike, what about happy countries?

The World Happiness Report, released in September 2013 by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, measured the wellbeing of residents in more than 150 countries, based on six key factors: GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity. The report found that happier people earn more in their lifetime, are more productive and are better citizens.

Interested in finding some happiness yourself? The following cities are in the world’s top five happiest countries, all of which are in northern Europe, including three in Scandinavia. Out of a possible high score of 10, the countries below received scores between 7.480 (Sweden) and 7.693 (Denmark). Canada missed the fifth spot by just a few thousandths of a point, coming in at 7.477.  

Aarhus, Denmark
Denmark’s second city is on the east coast of Jutland, the country’s mainland area, 150km west of Copenhagen. Blessed with a large natural harbour, Aarhus has the largest container terminal in the country and an industrial waterfront, but also a recreational marina near the city centre where people can water ski and sail. Thousands of students arrive every year to attend a number of universities and colleges, keeping the oldest large city in Scandinavia one of the youngest demographically, while Aarhus’ museums, music festivals and outdoor theatres make the city culturally vibrant. Many of the young and young at heart spend time in the Vadestedet, a pedestrian area in the city centre along the Aarhus River filled with shops, outdoor cafes and restaurants. The Latin Quarter is the city’s oldest district, with narrow streets and medieval houses, while the Isberget (The Iceberg), the city’s newest residential development, was built on the northern end of the harbour and designed so all the apartments have stunning sea views.

Finding an apartment is competitive, especially when students start their terms in August and December, and many landlords ask for a deposit of several months’ rent. Areas around the city centre are perennially popular for their proximity to stores, restaurants and nightlife. North of the centre, trendy Trøjborg attracts artists, students and other creative types. A property in the city centre costs 25,000 Danish krone per square metre, while a three-bedroom flat in the centre rents for between 8,000 and 10,000 DKK per month. Outside the centre, a property costs 22,000 DKK per square metre, and three-bedroom flat starts at around 6,500 DKK.

Oslo, Norway
The quietest of the Scandinavian capitals, Oslo is also arguably the closest to nature, sitting at the northern end of Oslofjord and backed by forests and mountains. But the city is also big on culture, from its numerous music festivals to the refurbished Ekeberg Park, a public sculpture park that opened in September 2013 containing works by Louise Bourgeois as well as Rodin and Renoir. Downtown is buzzing with new restaurants, bars, clubs and shops, while the stunning Oslo Opera House is the type of world-class architecture people travel to see. With the Norwegian economy being pumped along by its oil industry and the strong Norwegian krone, Oslo is consistently ranked among the most expensive cities in the world.

A popular district just west of the city centre is Frogner, which stretches from the harbourfront to the Royal Palace and Frogner Park, home to the Vigeland Sculpture Park and Museum, which attracts more than a million visitors every year to see its more than 200 outdoor sculptures. The housing stock includes small apartment buildings and townhouses, and the area has many restaurants, boutiques, galleries and green spaces. Two locales on Frogner’s seafront are particularly desirable, according to Lief Laugen, president and CEO of Krogsveen real estate. “Aker Brygge is an old wharf completely rebuilt with hundreds of apartments and restaurants, bars, cinemas and office buildings,” Laugen said. And Tjuvholmen is a new high-end development and cultural quarter that is home to number of apartment buildings from top Scandinavian architects, the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art designed by Renzo Piano, a swimming beach, shops and offices.  

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