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The 7 Saddest Countries

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Cue the violins. We're getting ready to take a tour of the world's saddest countries.

The Better Life Index maintained by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has updated its data and ranked its 34 member nations on measures such as "life satisfaction." We're counting those scoring poorly as the saddest countries (among those surveyed). Some of the findings might surprise you, while others might not.

First off, it's natural to wonder which countries ranked highly on life satisfaction, and part of the answer lies in Scandinavia. While Switzerland got top billing, among the top eight you'll find (in descending order) Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. The Netherlands, Austria, Canada, and Mexico also fared well, with the U.S. in 16th place.

7 Nations Weeping
But on to the saddest countries. Here are the seven sad sacks, in descending order of sadness:

  1. Hungary
  2. Portugal
  3. Greece
  4. Turkey
  5. Estonia
  6. Russia
  7. Italy

Why are the citizens of these countries so dissatisfied with life? There are lots of reasons. Economic issues can weigh a population down, for starters. The World Economic Forum has ranked many more countries, 148 in all, on global competitiveness, and Hungary recently ranked 63rd, while Portugal came in 51st, Greece 91st, Turkey 44th, Estonia 32nd, Russia 64th, and Italy 49th. (No. 1? Switzerland, again.)

In notes accompanying the ranking, Estonia was singled out in Eastern Europe for its educational system and macroeconomic stability, among other things. Turkey was cited for a rising deficit and inflation approaching double digits, while Portugal and Greece feature macroeconomic instability and are working on improving their competitiveness.

Unemployment is a factor among some of the saddest countries, with the CIA's website recently listing Greece with a 24% estimated unemployment rate (as of 2012), Portugal at 16%, Hungary and Italy at 11%, Estonia at 10%, Turkey at 9%, and Russia at less than 6%. Some, but not all, of the saddest countries also have steep inflation rates, which can worry citizens. Per the World Bank, the seven saddest countries had the following inflation rates in 2012: Turkey: 8.9%, Hungary: 5.7%, Russia: 5.1%, Estonia: 3.9%, Italy: 3%, Portugal: 2.8%, and Greece: 1.5%.

Political instability also likely plays a role in some of the saddest countries, but it's not a major issue for most of the OECD nations. Per the Fund for Peace, which computes a "Failed States Index" each year, the four most unstable nations are Somalia, Congo, Sudan, and South Sudan. Out of the 178 listed  countries, here's where our seven saddest rank: Russia: 80th, Turkey: 86th, Greece: 138th, Hungary: 141st, Estonia: 145th, Italy: 147th, and Portugal: 161st. None made the top half of the list.

Of course, some of the reason why a given country ends up among the saddest may lie in the country's culture itself. In Portugal, for example, you'll find fado music, traditional urban folk songs that are quite melancholic, stirring up yearning and sadness.

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Selena Maranjian

Selena Maranjian has been writing for the Fool since 1996 and covers basic investing and personal finance topics. She also prepares the Fool's syndicated newspaper column and has written or co-written a number of Fool books. For more financial and non-financial fare (as well as silly things), follow her on Twitter...

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