The 10 Happiest Countries in the World

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Denmark HappinessBy Michael B. Sauter

For the second year in a row, 24/7 Wall St. examined the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's report on life satisfaction in the developed world. Economic prosperity, health and a strong social support network continue to correspond highly with happiness.

And once again, the United States fails to make the top 10 happiest nations in the world, while countries like Australia, Israel and all of the Scandinavian nations do.

Don't feel too bad, fellow citizens. We actually came in 11th. But here are the 10 who ranked ahead of us, and why.

The 10 Happiest Countries in the World

Life satisfaction score: 7.3
Employment rate: 73% (5th highest)
Self-reported good health: 79% (9th highest)
Employees working long hours: 1.28% (3rd lowest)
Disposable income: $26,633 (11th highest)
Educational attainment: 86% (9th highest)
Life expectancy: 81.5 years (7th highest)

In addition to its good scores on the various metrics listed above, the country has extremely low pollution levels. According to the Better Life Index data, 97% of Swedes are satisfied with the quality of their drinking water — the second best rating among developed countries. The country also has the lowest levels of air pollution in the OECD.

Leisure is a high priority for the population: Just 1.28% of Swedes with jobs work more than 50 hours a week. By comparison, 10.86% of U.S. employees do.


By Michael B. Sauter, 24/7 Wall St.

Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied for 6th)
Employment rate: 72% (7th highest)
Self-reported good health: 88% (3rd highest)
Employees working long hours: 3.91% (11th highest)
Disposable income: $27,138 (8th highest)
Educational attainment: 88% (5th highest)
Life expectancy: 80.8 years (13th highest)

Canada's strong score has much to do with the success of its health care system, a socialized plan that provides coverage to all of its citizens. As many as 88% of Canadians report their health to be "good" or "very good," which ranks third among all nations surveyed. Canada also ranks among the top 15 nations in life expectancy. Other factors that may be contributing to Canadians' high life satisfaction level are education and employment levels. Some 88% of Canadians have at least a high school diploma -- the fifth-highest rate among the nations the OECD reviewed. Also, 72% of working-age citizens are employed -- the seventh-highest rate. By comparison, Italy -- one of the poorer-performing countries in these categories -- has a working-age employment rate of 57%, and only 54% of its population has a high school diploma or better.

Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied for 6th)
Employment rate: 72% (9th highest)
Self-reported good health: 85% (5th highest)
Employees working long hours:13.99% (4th highest)
Disposable income: $26,927 (9th highest)
Educational attainment: 71% (12th lowest)
Life expectancy: 81.8 years (5th highest)

Compared to the citizens of other countries with high life satisfaction, Australians have comparatively little leisure time. Nearly 14% of the population works 50 hours a week or more. But Australians are healthier than most, with a life expectancy of 81.8 years -- the fifth-highest in the OECD. Additionally, 85% of Australians report their health to be either "good" or "very good."

The national economy has also fared well in recent years, with a post-financial crisis peak unemployment rate of only 5.7%. Today, Australia's unemployment rate is 4.9%. Another sign of economic strength is the low government debt that stands only at 4.9% of GDP. By comparison, U.S. government debt represents 73.8% of our GDP.

Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied for 6th)
Employment rate: 68% (14th highest)
Self-reported good health: 68% (15th lowest)
Employees working long hours: 3.66% (8th highest)
Disposable income: $24,958 (14th highest)
Educational attainment: 82% (14th highest)
Life expectancy: 80.2 years (16th lowest)

According to OECD data, the Finns value their free time. They devote 14.9 hours per day to leisure on average, the ninth highest among developed nations. Americans, on the other hand, rank 20th with a not-too-shabby 14.27 hours of leisure time each week. (Those figures do include time spent sleeping.)

Finland also has the eighth-lowest percentage of employees working more than 50 hours per week, at only 3.66%. And when they're not working, Finns like to indulge by taking a sauna. The country of 5.3 million people has 2 million saunas -- far more saunas, in fact, than cars.

Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied for 6th)
Employment rate: 60% (11th lowest)
Self-reported good health: 81% (7th highest)
Employees working long hours: 18.92% (3rd highest)
Disposable income: n/a
Educational attainment: 82% (12th highest)
Life expectancy: 81.7 years (6th highest)

Israelis live long, healthy lives. The country has a low obesity rate of 13.8%, and 81% of those surveyed report their health to be "good" or "very good." By comparison, Americans' average life expectancy is 3 years lower, and the U.S. obesity rate is 33.8% among adults.

Despite the constant security concerns in the country, the homicide rate in Israel is in line with the OECD's average of 2.1 murders per 100,000 people. In addition, 70% of Israelis surveyed feel safe walking home at night. And although Israelis work long hours -- 18.92% work at least 50 hours a week -- life satisfaction remains high.

Life satisfaction score: 7.5 (tied for 3rd)
Employment rate: 72% (8th highest)
Self-reported good health: 69% (17th lowest)
Employees working long hours: 9.02% (10th highest)
Disposable income: $27,541 (7th highest)
Educational attainment: 82% (13th highest)
Life expectancy: 80.7 (22nd lowest)

Austria stands out in many economic categories, including top 10 ranks in employment rate and disposable income. At least part of the credit for the high level of disposable income -- in excess of $5,000 more than the OECD nations' average of $22,387 -- may be attributable to the relatively high number of citizens working in excess of 50 hours a week.

Life satisfaction score: 7.5 (tied for 3rd)
Employment rate: 79% (1st highest)
Self-reported good health: 87% (4th highest)
Employees working long hours: 5.87% (17th highest)
Disposable income: $27,756 (5th most)
Educational attainment: 87% (8th highest)
Life expectancy: 82.6 (2nd highest)

The most salient statistic with respect to well-being for the fourth ranked country on the list is employment. Switzerland tops the list in terms of working age employment rate at a whopping 79%. Switzerland also cracks the top five in three other categories: disposable income, self-reported good health and life expectancy. The Swiss also have very high rates of insurance coverage, and computer and Internet usage.

Life satisfaction score: 7.5 (tied for 3rd)
Employment rate: 75% (3rd highest)
Self-reported good health: 77% (11th highest)
Employees working long hours: 0.68% (2nd lowest)
Disposable income: $25,740 (13th highest)
Educational attainment: 73% (15th lowest)
Life expectancy: 80.8 (14th highest)

The Dutch government is heavily involved in internal economic affairs, playing a "significant role ... pertaining to almost every aspect of economic activity," according to the U.S. Department of State. Judging by Netherlands' 75% employment rate -- the third highest among those surveyed -- this regulated, monitored economy has thrived in recent years. Of those employed, only 0.68% work longer than 50 hours a week. By contrast, 10.86% of U.S. workers eclipse the 50 hour mark. The Dutch also rank highly in self-reported good health, life expectancy and disposable income.

Life satisfaction score: 7.6
Employment rate: 75% (4th highest)
Self-reported good health: 80% (8th highest)
Employees working long hours: 2.66% (5th lowest)
Disposable income: $30,465 (5th highest)
Educational attainment: 81% (15th highest)
Life expectancy:81.2 (10th highest)

Norway is among the most financially secure of the nations examined by the OECD. Employment and income are high, and Norway significantly outspends almost all other surveyed nations on health care, allocating $5,003 per person per year to it. This is well above the average for OECD nations of $3,060 per person per year. As a result, Norway also has one of the healthiest populations. Showcasing its economic strength, Norway is able to provide quality public health and education services while maintaining a budget surplus of 162.5% of GDP and an AAA rating from Standard & Poor's Rating Services.

Life satisfaction score: 7.8
Employment rate: 73% (6th highest)
Self-reported good health: 71% (17th highest)
Employees working long hours: 1.92% (4th lowest)
Disposable income: $23,213 (15th lowest)
Educational attainment: 76% (18th lowest)
Life expectancy: 79.3 (11th lowest)

Denmark tops the OECD rankings with the most satisfied citizens in the developed world. At first glance, the reason is not obvious. Denmark ranks no higher than fourth in any of the categories that appear to correlate strongly with overall satisfaction. Yet, in addition to the OECD, organizations such as the World Map of Happiness and the World Database of Happiness have consistently set Denmark atop their lists of the world's happiest countries. A high employment rate and a low percentage of people working long hours contribute to high satisfaction levels. But overall, it is hard to pin down why those Danes are so darn happy.

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