Are Americans happier than citizens in other countries?
Well, it depends on how you measure happiness.
New research from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that we’re ahead of the game when it comes to wealth, behind the curve when it comes to life expectancy—and wait till you hear how we stack up on work-life balance.
This data comes from the Better Life Index, a ranking system from the newly established OECD which measures happiness levels in 34 countries, based on how their citizens feel about things like earnings, housing, their community—and even how many good and bad things happen to them per day.
And the Better Life Index actually isn’t the first of its kind.
We’ll show you how the first “Happiness Index” came about–and how your life in the United States stacks up.
What Is a Happiness Index, Anyway?
The Gross National Happiness (GNH) index was developed in the 1970s by the tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan (it’s half the size of Indiana) to inspire government initiatives that would improve its citizens’ lives.
The country’s index evaluates 33 indicators within nine larger categories like psychological wellbeing, living standards, education, health, ecological and cultural diversity and community vitality. It’s administered to all of Bhutan’s residents, even those living in the most remote areas.
Why a happiness index? Because GDP or gross domestic product—which typically measures a country’s rate of economic growth—doesn’t really tell you how that impacts the life of its citizens.
And once word got out that Bhutan had created a way to quantify happiness, other countries jumped on the GNH train.
In 2008, former French President Sarkozy instituted the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. In 2008, Victoria, British Columbia created the Greater Victoria Happiness Index Partnership. And most notably for us, last year the Paris-based OECD, developed the Better Life Index to measure well-being in 34 countries.
So, Which Countries Are the Happiest, Wealthiest … and Busiest?
Don’t be too shocked: The United States isn’t the world’s happiest country. But it also isn’t the least. The OECD report found that:
- The U.S ranks first in average household wealth (which measures not just income, but total worth of the household and its assets), at $102,000 a year, with only Switzerland, at $95,000, coming close. But the OECD reports that our gap between rich and poor also ranks relatively high, with the top 20% of the American population earning about eight times as much as the bottom 20%. (Interestingly, we hear that an income of $50,000 is the amount to make us happy.)
- Americans are more satisfied with their lives than the OECD average, with 76% of people–compared with an average of 72%–saying they have more positive experiences in an average day (including feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment) than negative ones (including pain, worry, sadness, boredom). But we’re not the happiest: Denmark, Norway and Switzerland all outscored us on that front.
- And we don’t live the longest: The OECD findings show we lag about a year behind the report’s average, with Americans living to 79 instead of 80.
- Maybe it’s all that work we do? It may not come as a surprise that people in most countries report a better balance between their career and their personal lives than we do. On that front, Denmark, Belgium and Spain are the places to be. But if you just want to pack it in and enjoy a life of leisure, don’t head to Mexico, Turkey or Japan, who proved to be home to bigger workaholics than even us.
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