June 4, 2013
If you are generally pretty happy, new data suggests there is a good chance you are Australian. Americans fare pretty well in the happiness department, too, though lags in life satisfaction and work-life balance might be limiting our cheer potential. This information comes from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's recently released Better Life Index, which ranked 36 countries in 11 different categories that the group believes contribute to one's happiness.
Among the criteria were income, jobs, work-life balance, education, housing, the environment, safety, health, community, civic engagement and life satisfaction. When all factors are weighted equally, Australia ranks first, followed by Sweden and Canada. The U.S. ranks sixth overall, while Turkey and Mexico rank last. This is not to say that the U.S. fares well on all criteria, however. If you rank countries by the Index's elusive "life satisfaction" category, the U.S. falls to 12th, and a sluggish jobs market could be partly to blame. Conal Smith, section head within the OECD's statistics directorate, told 24/7 Wall St. that "not having a job when you're willing and able to work affects life satisfaction more than anything else."
Another category in which the U.S. did not fare particularly well is work-life balance, where we ranked beneath most other "happy" nations. Romina Boarini, the OECD's head of monitoring well-being and progress, told NBC News that the link between work-life balance and overall happiness is unsurprising. "People need not just to have money," she said. "Perhaps it's better to sacrifice a little bit of income to have a little bit more [in terms of] friends and community."
There were some areas in which the U.S. excelled. The Daily Mail indicates that Americans reported the highest average disposable incomes, believe they know someone they can rely upon in a time of need and have more positive experiences each day than the OECD average. The U.S. fell in the middle of the pack in areas like safety, civic engagement and the environment.
According to NBC News, the data suggests there are a few themes regarding what makes a nation happy. Top-ranked countries tend to have strong economies and the ability to invest in health and education. Those that rank near the bottom of the list, for instance, tend to have weaker economies. Those nations often have high unemployment and crime rates, and populations that feel disconnected from their government. Another factor that seems to separate the happiest and unhappiest nations on the list is income distribution: The smaller a nation's social gaps, the higher its well-being outcomes.
These trends aside, Boarini told NBC News that one thing the data has taught her is that there is "no unique recipe" for happiness. "It's not just having one thing that makes your happiness. It's a combination," she said. "And you need a little bit of all those things to be OK."
Compiled by Aimee Hosler
"America comes in sixth place in global rankings of the happiest countries in the world with Australia keeping the top spot," dailymail.co.uk, May 28, 2013, Jill Reilly
"OECD Better Life Index," http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/
"The Happiest Countries in the World," 247wallst.com, May 29, 2013
"The happiest countries? Balance matters more than money," nbcnews.com, May 28, 2013, John Newland