CNN’s recommended 15 of the world’s happiest places
(CNN)Blue Monday, the day reputed to be the most depressing of the year for those in the Northern Hemisphere, is here once again.
This year, January 16 is supposedly a perfect storm of cruddy weather, mounting debt, post-holiday fatigue, back-to-work ennui and failed New Year’s resolutions.
And while the “science” behind Blue Monday is more than a little dubious — its origins are in a 2005 press release for a UK travel company — it’s true that it can be hard to find your inner ray of sunshine this time of year.
If January is getting you down, here are 16 places around the world that offer their own unique slices of happiness.
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Health Land Spa & Massage, Bangkok
Surrounded by the glass and steel offices towers of Thailand’s corporate set, and a short walk from Bangkok’s equally hectic nightlife, the Sathorn branch of the Health Land Spa & Massagechain fills one of the city’s few remaining stately old homes.
When the house was built, Sathorn Road would have been a country retreat from a much smaller city. Now it still feels like an escape from the city’s relentless energy.
Beautiful, simple, and affordable, Health Land is where people can stop in for a quick foot massage or a long sequence of rejuvenating treatments.
Its therapists are all professional and extensively trained in the Thai traditional massage techniques that aim to release the energy that gets trapped in the body during the grind of daily life.
Health Land Spa & Massage; 120 North Sathorn Rd., Silom, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500 Thailand
Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn, Owensboro, Kentucky
People tend to get picky about their barbeque, but the Moonlite has carved out a niche that everyone respects.
What started as a small roadside restaurant has grown into a landmark, famed for its hickory-smoked mutton.
People who remember the 30-seat place that Moonlite started as may not recognize the 350-seat destination that it’s become, but it’s still a family business cooking meat the way they’ve always done, in a way that tastes like home.
Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn; 2840 W Parrish Ave., Owensboro, KY 42301
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Cherry blossom season in Kyoto, Japan
In early April, cherry blossoms bloom along Kyoto’s Okazaki Canal.
The city is famous for its blossoms, but along the canal a footpath passes under the trees right alongside the water, which reflects the flowers back up.
The stroll is like walking through a pink floral tunnel, but only for a short time each year. This is a happiness that has to be seized when the moment is just right.
Scientists say that chocolate actually does trigger chemicals in the brain that make people feel happier. Some studies indicate that dark chocolate helps with memory and heart function.
But there’s chocolate, and then there’s Mary — the nearly century-old chocolatier on Brussels’ Rue Royale.
Mary Delluc opened her business in 1919. Her reputation for exacting standards made her a chocolate purveyor to the kings.
Today there are branches throughout Belgium, and even one in Ohio, and anyone can enjoy her little bites of happiness, with caramel, pralines, almond paste or liqueurs.
Mary; Rue Royale 73, Brussels 1000 Belgium
Table Mountain, Cape Town
Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, on the slopes of Table Mountain.
Not many cities have natural getaways in the middle of them, or at least not on the scale of Table Mountain, which defines Cape Town’s landscape.
Busloads of tourists get dropped off at the cable car, which whisks people up and down the mountainside every few minutes. But the ascent doesn’t have to be a hurry.
Trails up the mountain lead away from the crowds and into an experience of nature in the middle of the city.
“The best part about hiking up Table Mountain is that you don’t have to drive very far to escape the concrete jungle,” says South African hiker Lynette Bannatyne, who’s tackled ascents across the country.
“The mountain is situated in the middle of the greater city. From any angle it’s a tough vertical climb to get to the top but worth every step for the magnificent views from the summit.”
Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, Malpes
Few places evoke “away from it all” like Malpes, the Indian Ocean island nation of tropical paradise beaches.
Even within Malpes, the Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll is pretty far away. From the capital Male, it’s about an hour flight to the nearest airport and then a boat ride to get to a resort.
Once there, villas are perched on stilts over the water for an experience of solitude, but with room service.
The Okavango Delta is one of Africa’s great protected wildernesses, and is the star attraction in Botswana’s famed eco-tourism.
The region covers up to 15,000 square kilometers, where the Okavango River pours water into the Kalahari Desert, fanning out in annual floods that are the life force for all plant and animal life in the region.
The juxtaposition of a vast wetlands surrounded by desert makes it an example of how determined living creatures are to survive.
Travel here is, by design, very expensive, in order to limit the number of people affecting the ecosystem.
Luxury safari operator &Beyond runs several lodges, such as the Xaranna tented camp on an island in the Delta.
“The Okavango Delta offers a special brand of peace and tranquility,” says Joss Kent, CEO of luxury travel company andBeyond.
“Secluded among clear waterways and wooded islands, life slows down to a different pace here.”
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Wrigley Field, Chicago
One of the last old-school baseball stadiums in America, Wrigley Field is a place to experience the up-close joys of baseball, rather than the spectacle of oversize sport.
For years, journalist Carrie Kaufman worked nearby and still loves the experience.
“Wrigley Field, on a warm summer night when the breeze off Lake Michigan makes the flags flutter and your cheeks flush with relief from the damp heat.
“No matter where you sit, you are close to the field, which makes you feel both the intimacy of the game and the immensity of it.
“The players, standing just feet away from you, feel like giants. And the vendors in the stands hawking hot dogs and beers and Italian ice really are a study in that particular species of Chicago native.”
Wrigley Field is such an evocative place, a paint brand has started selling a line of colors inspired by it.
Wrigley Field; 1060 W Addison, Chicago, IL 60613-4397
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Casablanca Valley, Chile
Just outside Valparaiso, Emiliana Organic Vineyards create wines in a storybook fashion: on a wine farm where flowers and food crops grow as well as grapes, with alpacas, horses and geese in the fields.
It’s the childhood image of a farm, except that this one produces award-winning wine.
In the world of organic farming, Emiliana’s approach is called biodynamic, because of the interplay between different species of plants and animals. For example, the chicken coops have wheels, so the hens can feed on insects all over the farm.
It’s a beautiful setting to experience practical ways of working with the earth.
Emiliana Organic Vineyards; Avenida Nueva Tajamar 481 Of. 905 WTC Building, South Tower Las Condes, Casablanca, Chile
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Ulva Island, New Zealand
A mollymawk — a type of albatross — lands on water near Ulva Island.
New Zealand doesn’t lack for natural beauty, but Ulva Island shows what the country was like in the distant past.
Farm animals were never introduced here, and no invasive animals or pests live in these forests. Local birds that sometimes struggle elsewhere in the country — including the iconic kiwi — thrive here.
Ulva Island is open to the public, but visitors have to follow strict biosecurity standards, including washing shoes to remove foreign soil and checking gear for even small insects that could pose a threat.
Ulva is a reminder that nature can manage all on its own.
For a more scientific look at where to find happiness, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon commissioned the first World Happiness Report in 2012 to look at how people feel about their own lives.
The goal is to use that data to help steer policy. 2016’s report found, for the third time, that Denmark is the world’s happiest country.
Among the reasons cited is the Danes’ good work-life balance, with a relatively short average week working and five weeks of vacation a year.
That means they have plenty of time for enjoying a meal with family and friends, cycling, or just relaxing. There’s nowhere more Danish to experience life than Nyhavn, the old port in Copenhagen that’s now home to restaurants and music along the canal.
Giant Panda Research Base, Chengdu, China
Pandas make people happy. And what’s not to love?
They’re cute, cuddly, furry, and they’re herbivores.
That last bit’s important because at the Giant Panda Research Base in Chengdu, China visitors can actually hold a baby panda.
The research center operates the most successful panda-breeding program in the world, with more than 80 pandas in residence. Chengdu is one of China’s mega-cities, known for making iPhones as much as for traditional culture.
But the province of Sichuan is home to 80 percent of the world’s giant pandas, and playing with one is quite simply a joy.
Giant Panda Research Base; Sichuan Sheng, Chengdu Shi, Chenghua Qu, China
Iguazu Falls, Argentine-Brazilian border
On the border between Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls are actually a system of 275 drops that create tiers of waterfalls in a horseshoe shape that’s dotted by islands, draped in mist, and linked by rainbows.
Like a scene from “Avatar,” or an actual scene from “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” the falls are nature at its most dramatic and humbling.
MORE: Iguazu Falls: Why you need to see this natural wonder
Osho International Meditation Resort, Pune, India
Osho was a 1970s mystic who became known as the “sex guru” (though only for straight people) whose followers gained notoriety over a bioterror attack and murder plots in Oregon.
That might not sound like the best introduction to a sexually recharging getaway, but the meditation resort in Pune has been running since 1974, with (pricey) wardrobes, activities and meditations where thousands of people still go to find a certain kind of awakening.
This is the kind of resort that requires an HIV test upon entry, to experience what it describes as “a unique combination of the meditation qualities of a Gautama the Buddha and the resort qualities of a Zorba the Greek. Zorba the Buddha in fact!”
Osho International Meditation Resort and Guesthouse; 17 Koregaon Park, Pune 411001, India
Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia
The massive sandstone rock formation in central Australia is one of those places that puts life into perspective.
It’s sacred to the indigenous people in Australia, even as it’s become one of the country’s most recognizable destinations.
Author Joanne Fedler, whose recent books have focused on improving family and romantic relationships, says Uluru is “a place to quietly contemplate your insignificance.”
She says it’s “a place that exudes peace and ancient tranquility, spoiled only by the tourists who ignore the requests not to climb on it due to its sacred significance to the Aboriginal people.
“Be sure to catch it at sunrise where the rock turns a luminescent orange — for a short while.”