The happiest universities in the world

happiest places on Earth
Study at the happiest places on Earth to help you get through the challenges of university. Source: Ethan Miller/AFP

Every year, The World Happiness Report releases a ranking of the happiest places on Earth. This is based largely on life evaluations from the Gallup World Poll.

The Scandinavian nations definitely know what they are doing as they consistently conquer the top three spots of happiest places in the world. 

This year, for the sixth year in a row, Finland ranked as the happiest country in the world to live in. 

Being the happiest place on Earth isn’t all that this country is known for. In fact, Finland is renowned for having the world’s best education system. 

While a majority of university courses here are taught in Finnish or Swedish, there are a number of English language courses available. 

International students from the European Economic Area (EEA), European Union (EU), and those with a permanent Swedish residence permit do not pay for tuition at Finnish universities.

Out of the 46 universities in Finland, nine have been listed under the QS World University Rankings 2023. This includes:

  1. University of Helsinki
  2. Aalto University
  3. University of Turku
  4. University of Jyväskylä
  5. Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology LUT
  6. University of Oulu
  7. Tampere University of Technology
  8. University of Eastern Finland
  9. Abo Akademi University
happiest places on Earth

Denmark’s beautiful scenery and culture have earned the country its title of one of the happiest places on Earth. Source: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Next on the list is Denmark, which is renowned for its pretty cities, delicate cuisines and beautiful coastlines. 

But what’s better is its government. Denmark ranks at the top of this list thanks to its high level of equality and a strong sense of common responsibility for social welfare.

The country has five universities listed under the QS World University Rankings 2023, of which only one university is in the top 100 list.

University of Copenhagen is known for its excellent education and ranks number one in Denmark by Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Similar to Finland, universities in Denmark are free for all EU and EEA students. 

Yet, for all its high standard of living and consistently topping this list of happiest places on Earth, some Finns scoff at such rankings.

“I wouldn’t say that I consider us very happy,” said Nina Hansen, a high school English teacher from Kokkola to New York Times. “I’m a little suspicious of that word, actually.”

happiest places on Earth

Enjoy the big smiles and laughter when you study at one of the happiest places on Earth. Source: Rick Diamond/AFP

Many think measuring happiness is impossible, especially since it is something subjective and difficult to measure in numbers. 

To measure it, researchers assess happiness through self-reports, multiple-item scales or single questions. 

Two scales have been designed to measure happiness. Those are:

  • Subjective Happiness Scale, developed in the US
  • Interdependent Happiness Scale in Japan

When it comes to the World Happiness Report to obtain results, answers from respondents based on main life questions are used. 

The World Happiness Report uses the Cantril ladder, where respondents are asked to think of a ladder where happiness is placed at 10, and the worst possible life is zero. 

Respondents then rate their own lives based on the scale and proceed to answer the questions using the same scale. 

“‘Happiness,’ sometimes it’s a light word and used like it’s only a smile on a face,” said Teemu Kiiski, the chief executive of Finnish Design Shop, to the New York Times. “But I think that this Nordic happiness is something more foundational.”

The high quality of life in Finland is deeply rooted in the nation’s welfare system, he said. “It makes people feel safe and secure, to not be left out of society.”

happiest places on Earth

The happiest places on Earth to earn a degree were ranked based on selfies. Source: Wang Zhao/AFP

Happiest universities in the world

The college experience is no walk in the park. It is no secret that university life is one of the most difficult times in a student’s life. You spend your time juggling your studies, assignments and, for some, a part-time job.

At many points, it can become overwhelming — which is why so many students drop out and lose out on the life-long benefits of a bachelor’s degree.

As many as one in three first-year students in US colleges and universities drop out never to return. From family problems and loneliness to struggling with coursework and money, there are many reasons why college can stress students to a point that they break.

Can studying at one of the happiest places on Earth make a positive difference?

Numerous universities have demonstrated that they emphasise their students’ general satisfaction and well-being while promoting academic performance.

Although different colleges offer different benefits to students, they all share the ability to strike a balance study, work and fun. 

Not only do they help students do well in classes but to fully enjoy the ride as well — college is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it’s important that you get to enjoy the sports, clubs, and surroundings just as much.

And the top three universities that do that best in the US, according to the Princeton Review, are:

  • Tulane University
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Auburn University

These are based on how strongly students agree or disagree with the statement, “I am happy at my school.”

What if you could measure happiness based on selfies?

Yes, you read that right, a ranking based on selfies. 

This is exactly what the analyst at did. Using AI facial recognition technology, they analysed Instagram selfies of university students across the US, UK and Australia. 

To obtain an accurate measurement, thousands of Instagram pictures that have geotagged universities from the three countries were selected.

This was further narrowed down by selecting only the pictures which show clear faces. The pictures were analysed using the AI tool that determines how likely a face is to be expressing happiness on a scale from 0% to 100%. 

Pictures that received scores of 75% and above were categorised as “”happy and taken into consideration for the calculations. 

As bizarre as this sounds, the results are out, and these are the happiest places on Earth to study based on selfies.

happiest places on Earth

Australia ranks as one of the happiest places on Earth to live and study. Source: William West/AFP

Happiest places on Earth to study, according to selfies:

If you want to have a smile on your face even while you’re writing your assignments, check out the best universities in the US, UK and Australia to do so.

1. University of Sunshine Coast

Australia is ranked the 12th happiest country in the world in The World Happiness Report in 2023.

Coming in first place in’s rankings with the biggest smiles is the University of Sunshine Coast. According to the AI tool, around 63.55% of faces tagged on Instagram at the university are happy.

Who wouldn’t be smiling with the pristine white-sandy beaches nearby for the perfect escape from the stresses of university?

London may be cold, but university students still post smiling selfies. Source: Joanna Zduńczyk/Pexels

2. King’s College London

In the UK, out of the 20 universities on the list, King’s College London grabbed the number one spot, with 71% of faces registered as happy in Instagram pictures. 

The big smiles are probably a result of the university’s high rankings. King’s College London ranks seventh best in the UK according to Times Higher Education World University Rankings and places at number 37 in the world according to QS World University Ranking

3. Texas Christian University

In the US, Texas Christian University came in first place as the happiest university, with three in four (76.47%) faces tagged on Instagram as being happy, according to AI analysis.

Coming in second and third place are the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and the University of Iowa. 

The University of Pennsylvania, one of the eight Ivy League schools in the country, came in at number seven on the list, so attending a top university doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness. 

happiest places on Earth

Many times what we see on social media is very different from reality. Source: Ben Stansall/AFP

Are the smiles on Instagram real?

A number of students have something different to say about the results of this list. One graduate commented, “All I’ve found out is that students at my alma mater are really, really good at faking a smile to hide the pain. Ain’t nobody happy at RPI.”

As we all know, university life is no easy affair. It comes with many challenges, from worrying about assignments and meeting deadlines to dealing with the financial burden. 

Since the rise of social media, many have become experts at slapping on a smile and hiding the pain we actually feel. 

Social media apps like Instagram give us the opportunity to portray our lives in a different way from what it really is. Nothing is ever “as it seems” on social media.

This raises the question if students are really happy or if they have just become masters at faking it.