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Happy International Day of Happiness - How to Celebrate?

18/03/2014 12:54 GMT | Updated 17/05/2014 10:59 BST

March 20 is the second annual International Day of Happiness. Unlike, say, Pancake Day, there's no set way to celebrate this UN established holiday. Instead member states and other organisations have been invited to observe it in an 'appropriate manner'. The aim of such celebrations, as well as simply putting a smile on people's faces, is to help raise the public profile of the day and in turn help to focus efforts on making the global population happier.

The UN's recent focus on happiness came at the request of Bhutan, which is now famous for choosing to forgo GDP as a way of measuring its country's wealth in favour of Gross National Happiness. The UN has agreed that happiness should be used as a way of measuring development. Of course, while GDP can be measured fairly objectively, trying to mention something as intangible as happiness is always going to be contentious.

When the UN published its second annual World Happiness Report in September 2013 fierce debate was inevitable. You don't need to search the internet for long to find comments suggesting that people in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden (which were ranked as the first, second and fifth happiest countries in the world respectively) are actually full of depressed alcoholics - and aren't we constantly told about the link between natural sunlight and feeling happy? Then there's the fact that Venezualens (20th) are supposedly happier than citizens of the UK (22nd) despite the fact they can't even depend on their local shop having toilet roll in stock?

What can't be debated is that while the people living in these happy countries might be having a whale of a time, it seems the rest of the world hasn't been particularly tempted to soak up their good vibes; only four of the 20 happiest countries also feature in the top 20 tourist destinations for 2012 (United States, Mexico, Austria and Canada). And you shouldn't need a report to tell you that in the UK we value sun and sand before 'happiness' when it comes to choosing where to holiday - after all, average temperatures can be accurately measured.

So why not celebrate International Day of Happiness by choosing to ditch your typical summer holiday in favour of finding out if you can learn from some of the happiest people on the planet?

Bhutan

Curiously the Kingdom of Bhutan won't be found on the UN's World Happiness Report, but there's plenty to smile about in this country of 750,000. Fly in by national carrier via Delhi, Kathmandu or Bangkok and prepare for stunning natural landscapes, as well as a wealth of temples, monasteries and palaces, such as the glorious Punakha Dzong, which are sure to fill you with joy. You'll need to obtain a visa before you travel and any visit to the country must be booked with a licensed Bhutanese tour operator as tourism is restricted in the country. The upshot to the trickiness of visiting Bhutan is that 'unspoilt' is an adjective we should be using describe this unique Kingdom for many decades to come.

Denmark

How did the home of the Vikings, famously known for raping and pillaging, come to be ranked the happiest place on earth (sorry Disney World) by the UN? One reason Danes are so happy, according to Christian Bjørnskov, who wrote his PhD on the subject of happiness, is because they are 'very trusting of other people they don't know' - perfect for a visiting tourist. As Copenhagen prepares to host the Eurovision Song Contest in May, 2014 could be the perfect year to ignore the Nordic weather and cheesy tunes and instead choose happiness. The Little Mermaid statue is Copenhagen's most famous tourist attraction, but a lazy afternoon spent strolling around the idyllic port area of Nyhavn - where Hans Christian Andersen wrote many of his timeless fairy tales - is a must on your pursuit of happiness.

Israel

Surrounded by enemy states and populated by people who, by the upper-lip standards of many Brits at least, could arguably be described as rather rude, it might come as a surprise that Israel ranks a respectable 11th in the World Happiness Report. Jerusalem is overflowing with religious sites from the Western Wall to the Temple Mount that are often beautiful and always fascinating for those with no faith, but genuinely moving for those that have a relationship with God. Tel Aviv on the other hand boasts fantastic nightlife, international cuisine and the chance to pretend that you did end up in Majorca by soaking up the sun and watching the beautiful people with a drink in hand on one of the lively beaches. Surely that's something to smile about?

Happiest and Saddest Countries

Top 10 Happiest Countries

1. Denmark

2. Norway

3. Switzerland

4. Netherlands

5. Sweden

6. Canada

7. Finland

8. Austria

9. Iceland

10. Australia

10 Saddest Countries

1. Togo

2. Benin

3. Central African Republic

4. Burundi

5. Rwanda

6. Tanzania

7. Guinea

8. Comoros

9. Syria

10. Senegal

This article was written by travel writer and eternal optimist Simon Goddard for Just The Flight.