Iceland is a vast landscape of fjords, glaciers, lava fields, and beauty as far as the eye can see. Picture a country where schools still insist on teaching their students the ancient sagas. It’s a place full of healthy, active citizens and where the scale of income inequality has near balanced arms.
The country of Iceland, a volcanic gem of farmland and wilderness, is nothing short of peaceful. Consider this— according to the Global Study on Homicide (UN), there was just one reported case of homicide in Iceland in 2012, with 14,827 cases of homicide in the United States that same year.
In Iceland, land preservation and eco-friendly living is not just an individual lifestyle choice—but rather a mainstream culture designation. This year, Iceland was named one of the top ten countries for green living according to the Global Green Economy Index—and thanks to the country’s unrivalled wealth of geothermal energy, Iceland is now the planet’s leading producer of electricity per capita.
Still there is more to this sparsely populated freckle on the map separating the North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean. Iceland is known as the first country to welcome a female head of state. Paving the road to equality on multiple fronts, Iceland was also the first place ever to elect an out-of-the-closet gay Prime Minister.
Healthy living extends more than sustainable ecological practice. Obesity rates in Iceland remain significantly lower than the United States, where Big Macs and microwavable food have become a staple of the American diet. Obese citizens only made up 21% of Iceland’s population in 2010. In a Health Statistics report; the CDC reports that in the United States, an estimated one third of adults are obese.
Unsurprisingly, Icelanders, on average, have a longer lifespan than Americans by four years. The typical Icelander lives 83 years— the average lifespan of a United States citizen being 78.7 years.
Though Iceland’s economy took a hit after refusing to bail out its banks, Icelanders are pulling themselves up from the bootstraps rather than by an extended string of economic bailouts.
Iceland has managed to find its footing in eco-tourism and eco-technology. In 2013, the rate of foreign travellers increased by over 15%, which made a big impact in the economy. People travel far and wide to see dramatic geysers, impressive museums, and breathe in the fresh Icelandic air. Icelandic startups are fuelling cutting-edge green energy advancements.
If that’s not enough to make you think this country is totally badass, Iceland is the historical homeland of Vikings. In 2000, to educate Icelandic children about the Viking Age, Gunnar Marel Eggertsson sailed a replica of the epic Gokstad Longship on a voyage through the Atlantic Ocean. Please take a moment to imagine the majesty of bearing witness to this as a 21st century child. Besides, expanding their imagination in the coolest way possible, this was also meant to remind citizens of the continuing tradition of relentless exploration and independence.
According to the 2013 United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network World Happiness Report, Iceland ranked #9 for happiness. In 2008, the country topped the table of the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index Rankings.
While remaining free from the leash of big banks, Iceland reminds us that it is not the size of the land between borders, but the choices made by its countrymen that define the landscape. Iceland provides an example of a functional alternative to the current Western standard model with public policy making that is not afraid to stray into new lands—channeling the traditional Viking mindset.