World’s Happiest Places – Where Do You Think People Feel Most Content With Their Lives?

Written By Kaisa Kokkonen Published March 21st, 2010

We all have seen numerous lists and surveys on this topic. I am quoting one of them as I found this very true. And of course the minor little factor is that I grew up in Finland.

According to a report released spring 2009 by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based group of 30 countries with democratic governments that provides economic and social statistics and data, happiness levels are highest in northern European countries. For those who are not well-traveled – that means Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark – and probably stretching the definition northern they include the Netherlands etc.

Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands rated at the top of the list, Denmark ranking first, Finland second and the Netherlands third. Outside Europe, New Zealand ranked 8th and Canada 6th. Surprisingly for many the U.S.A. did not crack the top 10. Switzerland placed seventh and Belgium placed tenth.

World’s Happiest Places in the Spotlight

The OECD report looked at subjective well-being, defined as life satisfaction. Do people feel like their lives were dominated by positive experiences and feelings, or negative ones? The OECD used data from a Gallup World Poll conducted in 140 countries around the world 2008. The poll asked respondents whether they had experienced six different forms of positive or negative feelings within the last day.

The Gallup World Poll as questions such as: Did you enjoy something you did yesterday? Were you proud of something you did yesterday? Did you learn something yesterday? Were you treated with respect yesterday?

How did they measure it?
In each country 1,000 people, age 15 or older, were surveyed. The poll was scored numerically on a scale of 1-100. The average score was 62.4.

According to OECD economists, who put together the report, overall economic health played a powerful role. While the global economic crisis has taken a toll on every nation, the countries that scored at the top still boast some of the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world. Denmark is not only a wealthy and small country, it’s also highly productive, with a 2009 GDP per capita of $68,000, according to the International Monetary Fund. The United States’ GDP per capita, by contrast, is $47,335. (the U.S.A scored 74)

However, becoming rich alone does not bring the greatest degree of happiness. Norway ranked ninth, not first, even though it has the highest GDP per capita on the list–$98,822. Explain that to the New Zealanders, whose happiness level is 76.7 out of 100 on the OECD list, but its 2009 GDP per capita is just $30,556.

The OECD economists reported also that work-life balance makes a difference which is not a surprise, is it? Scandinavian countries have a high GDP per capita, the average workweek in most Nordic countries is no more than 37 hours. China, which not so surprisingly, scored just 14.8 with a workweek of 47 hours and the GDP per capita is just $3,600. The Chinese are really hard workers and have not much time for play and happiness.

Security means a lot when you ask people how happy they are. That directly translates into low unemployment contributing to happiness. Not having a job makes one substantially less satisfied because for most people it creates an enormous financial pressure.
Spring 2009 Denmark’s unemployment rate was just 2%, Norway’s was just 2.6% and The Netherlands: just 4.5%. There are numerous economists who would concur that a 4% unemployment rate reflects a stable economy. The U.S. unemployment rate is currently around 10 %. (2010 spring). If I recall the current unemployment numbers from the Netherlands and Norway, they are both still well under 5 %.

Loved to hear your opinions – what do you think?

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