The 7 Most Leisurely Countries

See where America ranks among the most leisurely countries.

Jan 26, 2014 at 6:30AM

Just as there are uptight and laid-back people, there are countries that are more workaholic in nature as well as more leisurely countries. The folks at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, have updated the data in their Better Life Index and ranked their 34 member nations on measures that include "time devoted to leisure and personal care." So which are the most leisurely countries on their list?

Behold -- the seven most leisurely countries:

  • Denmark
  • Spain
  • Belgium
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • France
  • Germany

Why these most leisurely countries?
The list might be somewhat surprising, at least if you subscribe to stereotypes, such as that Germans are all about efficiency and discipline. (Stereotypes cut both ways, though -- think of Germans and their stereotypical love of beer, and Spaniards' love of siestas and fiestas.) It makes sense when you read up on other findings, though. Several years ago, for example, France was found to be the OECD member where people spent the most time sleeping and eating.

Many of these most leisurely countries make sense, though, especially if you look at other numbers in the Better Life Index. When it comes to life satisfaction, for example, the top seven countries include Norway, the Netherlands, and Denmark. It makes sense that these metrics would be correlated to some degree, as those with a lot of leisure time are likely to be satisfied with their lives, while those with little leisure time are likely to resent that. Turkey, for example, has the least time devoted to leisure and ranks fourth from the bottom of the list in life satisfaction.

Prof. Benjamin Radcliff of the University of Notre Dame has written The Political Economy of Human Happiness, and has linked the happiness of nations to the size of their social safety net, or the degree to which citizens enjoy tax-supported services and protections. He cites the U.N. 2013 "World Happiness Report," which lists Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden the happiest nations, clearly overlapping to a significant degree with the most leisurely countries. Indeed, all seven of the most leisurely countries rank in the top 40 on the U.N.'s list of more than 150 countries.

Wealth might be a factor, too, with Belgium and the Netherlands ranking high on net household wealth. Those with more money might still want to work longer hours for even more money, but many might feel less pressure to knock themselves out.

What can we learn?
You might be wondering where America falls on the ranking of the most leisurely countries. Well, alas, we're 10th from the bottom. If we want to learn how to be more leisurely from our European friends, we might try out some of their practices. Spain, for example, is home to the siesta, and many Spaniards have long enjoyed three-hour midday breaks for naps and meals. (This practice isn't the norm, though, and isn't universally embraced, either, as evidenced by the existence of the Association for the Rationalization of Spanish Working Hours, which aims to change things.)

Denmark, at the top of the list of most leisurely countries, sports a long coastline, which might encourage many leisure activities. With more than a third of its population biking to school or work regularly, it has extensive bike paths that can be used at other times, too. The nation is generous to parents, too, giving them 52 weeks of parental leave, up to 18 of them paid. More than 40% of Danes do volunteer work, too, and many belong to associations. Many shops and institutions are closed on Sunday, perhaps encouraging more leisure activities.

It's not a simple matter to change a country's overall leisure rate, but each individual has some control over leisure levels. Perhaps through your job choice or how you manage your time, you might spend more time on leisure, which can boost your happiness level.

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David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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