The Happiest Countries in the World

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11. Sweden
> Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied for 7th)
> Self-reported good health: 80% (8th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 1.1% (3rd lowest)
> Disposable income: $27,546 (11th highest)
> Life expectancy: 81.9 years (8th highest)

Like most of the happiest countries, employment among Swedish 15-64 year olds was particularly high, at 74% in 2012, compared with a 65% employment rate for all OECD nations. Sweden also received top marks for its environment — it has a lower level of air pollution than all but one other country. Also, 97% of Swedes were satisfied with the quality of their water last year, the highest rate across all OECD countries. Residents were also deeply engaged in the political process. The country had among the highest voting rates in the OECD, with 85% of eligible residents voting in 2010. Additionally, several studies found Sweden to have a very low levels of corruption.

10. Netherlands
> Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied for 7th)
> Self-reported good health: 76% (11th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 0.6% (2nd lowest)
> Disposable income: $25,697 (14th highest)
> Life expectancy: 81.3 years (11th highest)

In the Netherlands, 75% of working-age residents had jobs, among the highest percentages of all OECD countries. The Dutch, however, also enjoyed a great deal of personal time, devoting 15.44 hours per day to leisure and personal care — fifth highest among countries measured by the OECD. Not surprisingly, the Netherlands ranked as one of the best countries for work-life balance among all nations reviewed. Just 0.6% of employees in the country worked long hours — less than in any nation reviewed except for the Russian Federation. Work-life balance, combined with strong earnings, may have contributed to residents’ life satisfaction.. The $45,362 in average personal earnings among Dutch people was significantly higher than the $41,010 average personal earnings of across the OECD.

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9. Mexico
> Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied for 7th)
> Self-reported good health: 66% (14th lowest)
> Employees working long hours: 28.8% (2nd highest)
> Disposable income: $12,850 (2nd lowest)
> Life expectancy: 74.4 years (3rd lowest)

Mexico’s economy grew 3.4% last year, more than all but two other countries reviewed and above the OECD’s GDP growth rate of 1.2%. Still, Mexico is not without problems. The country’s air pollution is considerably worse than most other OECD nations. Mexico City is working hard to improve pollution after the U.N. named it the most polluted city on Earth two decades ago. Crime rates in Mexico are also notably higher than most other nations. Nearly 13% of residents 15 and older were assaulted last year, more than in any other country. Also, Mexico’s homicide rate was 23.4 per 100,000 people in 2010, considerably higher than the rate across the OECD of slightly more than four homicides per 100,000 people and second only to Brazil among nations reviewed. Mexicans also had poor work-life balance, with 28.8% of residents working very long hours.

8. Finland
> Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied for 7th)
> Self-reported good health: 69% (tied-17th lowest)
> Employees working long hours: 3.7% (9th lowest)
> Disposable income: $26,904 (12th highest)
> Life expectancy: 80.6 years (15th lowest)

Finland’s renowned education system likely contributes to the country’s well-being. Finnish students are among the world’s top performers on the PISA — the Programme for International Student Assessment — with an average score of 529, better than all but two other OECD nations. Many educators and policymakers admire the country for providing an unconventional yet high quality and well-rounded education for the vast majority of its citizens. While children do not start school until the age of seven, a Finnish resident spends an average of 19.5 years in school, more than residents in any other country measured by the OECD. When it comes to health, more than three quarters of the country’s residents said they were at least in “good” health. This was one of the best rates among countries reviewed and above the 69% for all other countries reviewed by the OECD.

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7. Australia
> Life satisfaction score: 7.4 (tied for 7th)
> Self-reported good health: 85% (4th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 14.2% (7th highest)
> Disposable income: $31,197 (4th highest)
> Life expectancy: 82.0 years (7th highest)

More than 14% of Australians said they worked very long hours, more than all but a few other nations. Residents were rewarded for their hard work, however. Per capita disposable income was $31,197 — fourth highest after the U.S., Luxembourg, and Norway. Additionally, the average personal earnings in Australia was $46,585, among the highest of all nations reviewed. Residents were also heavily engaged in politics last year. Australia’s 93% voter turnout, likely the result of compulsory voting, was the highest in the OECD. Possibly also contributing to residents’ happiness was the size of their homes. Australians live in especially large homes, averaging 2.3 rooms per person, among the most of any country reviewed.

6. Iceland
> Life satisfaction score: 7.5 (tied for 5th)
> Self-reported good health: 78% (9th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 13.7% (8th highest)
> Disposable income: $22,415 (17th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 82.4 years (4th highest)

Iceland’s employment rate of 80% among working-age residents led all countries. Icelanders also had the strongest support network out of all countries reviewed, with 96% of residents indicating they had people they could count on in an emergency. Still, in other areas measured by the Better Life Index, Icelanders didn’t fare as well. For one, the country’s educational track-record was mixed. Residents spent an average of 19.5 years on their education, the second most out of any nation. Despite that, the average PISA score among students, as well as the educational attainment of working-age citizens, ranked among the bottom half of countries reviewed. Iceland was also in the bottom half of countries in terms of work-life balance.