The World's 10 Happiest Countries

Are we among the world's 10 happiest countries? Well, I'm a pretty happy guy, and most of my friends seem happy, too -- but apparently we're doing it wrong. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, The United States hasn't even cracked into the world's 10 happiest countries. While many of the leaders are from the usual gang of smiling, frozen democracies, there's one that might surprise you.

Smiling, happy, and well educated
The OECD rankings cover the its 34 members plus Russia and Brazil, so don't expect North Korea to show up on the index anytime soon. Instead of "happiness," the organization uses "life satisfaction," which is a measure of subjective well-being. OECD's ranking is an indication of how people in these countries view their own position, not how their income, job status, and housing should make them feel.

Across many countries, the OECD found that education level had an effect on overall life satisfaction. The organization proposes that education doesn't make someone happy on its own, but that it has a large impact on health, income, and other factors that do contribute to happiness.

The bottom five
Without further ado, here are the rankings, starting with the first half of the top 10.

10. Mexico
9. Austria
8. Canada
7. Finland
6. Netherlands

One of these jumped out at me -- Mexico. The OECD uses an interesting little flower thing to represent each country, with each petal size determined by a different factor. Most countries have a relatively balanced flower, but Mexico is not most countries. The country's flower is a handful of small petals -- sometimes hard to even see -- with one huge petal representing life satisfaction. In nine of the 11 rankings, Mexico falls in the bottom 10. In the survey, 85% of Mexican respondents reported having more positive experiences than negative ones on any given day.

Mexicans gave their overall satisfaction a 7.3 out of 10, putting them firmly in 10th. Compare that with the Netherlands, where the average score came out at 7.5. So across all the countries, the range was fairly tight. The OECD reported about a three-point range across the 34 members.

The top five
Finland and the Netherlands set things up for the top five. Of these five countries, three touch the Arctic Circle.

5. Denmark
4. Sweden
3. Iceland
2. Norway
1. Switzerland

Scores range from 7.5 for Denmark to 7.8 for Switzerland, with 82% of Swiss respondents feeling more positive than negative on an average day. It's probably not surprising that Switzerland is also in the top 10 for four other categories, including a No. 1 slot in the jobs category. Of course, none of that mattered to 10-year-old me, who wanted to move to Switzerland because they had cheese, chocolate, and snow there. I'll bet it plays into people's responses.

The U.S. falls short
I mentioned the small range of scores that countries reported, and America falls pretty close to the middle. In life satisfaction, Americans gave themselves a score of 7.0, putting us at 14th on the list. Education plays a big role, and people with only a primary education give their lives a 6.1, while further education pushes the scores up to 7.4.

The report strikes an interesting balance, sort of the way that poker does between skill and luck. Sure, the scores are self-reported, subjective, and open to broad interpretation, but the same countries end up in the finals year after year. Maybe next century, we'll find ourselves at that table.

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