It's one thing to rank cities or countries on their economies or employment prospects, but most people don't crave financial opportunity to the exclusion of all else. Most of us want to be happy, and in the past few years, a slew of studies, surveys, and research projects have been launched to figure out whose citizens are the most content.
The difficulty, of course, is that what makes one person happy may make another person miserable. Now, the Better Life Initiative, from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), aims to fix that with a nifty, new tool that ranks 34 countries on 11 indicators. (The tool allows you to tweak criteria to fit your own stage of life.)
Taking into account many of the factors associated with a "good life," such as income and education, it also adds citizens' answers to qualifty-of-life questions like, "How satisfied are you with your life?" "How would you describe your health?" and "Do you know someone you could turn to in a time of need?"
To see the happiest countries, and what makes them that way, start here.
10 Happiest Countries in the World
10. Netherlands: They're Happy, Just Ask Them
How happy? 91 percent of Dutch citizens say they're satisfied with their quality of life, making them the most satisfied people in the survey.
Why They're Happy: Netherlanders work the least of any nationality in the survey, clocking in just 1,378 hours a year. The long-term unemployment rate is only 1.24 percent, and after their kids reach school-age, some 75 percent of Dutch women glide back into the workforce at least part-time.
Additionally, they've got a great social life, a top school system and a healthy population. Only 2 percent of the Dutch said they 'rarely' or 'never' spent time with friends. The Netherlands has the top-performing school system in the survey, and, at 11.1 percent, one of the lowest obesity rates. (For comparison, the U.S. obesity rate is 27.5 percent)
Why They're Not the Happiest: Only 87 percent of Dutch expect to be satisfied with their lives in five years, which makes them the only country on the list that expects to be less happy in the future than they are today.
How Happy? Some 86 percent of people in Finland say they're satisfied with their life.
Why They're Happy: In Finland, almost no profession is higher-respected than that of teacher. The recent improvements in Finland's educational system can be seen in the high-school graduation stats: Some 81 percent of Finnish adults have earned a high school degree, but among 25-34 year-olds, the rate jumps to 90 percent.
Additionally, there is relatively little air or noise pollution, and some 82 percent of Finns say they trust their government, the highest number in the survey.
Why They're Not the Happiest: Finland is expensive, even for Finns. The average disposable income of a Finnish household is $24,246 a year, which is slightly more than the average in this study. Yet household worth, at $18,616, is only about half of the average.
How Happy? Some 77 percent of people in Switzerland say they're satisfied with their life, and 81 percent believe they will be satisfied with their lives five years from now.
Why They're Happy: The average life expectancy in Switzerland is 82.2 years. Only the Japanese can expect to live longer (82.7 years). The Swiss spend 9 percent of their GDP on healthcare, which is the third-highest number in the survey (The U.S. spends much more than anyone else, at 16 percent, but US life expectancy is lower, at 77.9 years.)The Swiss also have lots of savings: average household financial wealth is $93,415, the third-highest in the study.
Why They're Not the Happiest: The Swiss appear politically disengaged. Voter turnout in Switzerland was only 48 percent, the lowest of any country in the study.In addition, only about a third of the Swiss--the lowest in the survey--own their own homes.
How Happy? 70 percent of people in the U.S. say they're satisfied with their life. Always an optimistic group, 80 percent expect to be satisfied in five years.
Why They're Happy: Big houses, bigger incomes: Average household earned income in the U.S. is $37,690, higher than any other country in the study except Luxembourg (which doesn't make the top ten for overall happiness). Houses in the U.S. are much larger than those in other countries, with an average of 2.3 rooms per person (the OECD nations as a whole average 1.6 rooms per person). Household wealth in the U.S. averages $98,440, more than two-and-a-half times the average for this group of countries. When it comes to education, 89 percent of the population has a high-school diploma, the third-highest number in the study.
Why They're Not the Happiest: Life expectancy at birth is a relatively low 77.9 years. The U.S. homicide rate is the third-highest in the study. The U.S. is the only OECD member nation without a national paid parental leave policy.
How Happy? 90 percent of Danes say they're satisfied with their lives, far above the OECD average of 59 percent. And 92 percent expect to be happy in ten years, giving Danes the highest 'life satisfaction' rating.
Why They're Happy: 97 percent of Danes say they know someone they could rely on in times of need, the fourth-highest level in the study. Only 17 percent of people in Denmark say they don't feel safe on the streets after dark, much lower than the OECD average of 26 percent.Danes score second in the amount of free time they have.
In Copenhagen, about a third of commuters bike to work. Despite the risk of accidents, studies show people cycling to work have a 28 percent lower mortality rate than average.
Why They're Notthe Happiest: The average income in Denmark is only about $22,929. That's close to the OECD average, but below most of the other top ten countries. And only 75 percent of adults have a high-school diploma--a good number, but not as good as other top ten countries.
How Happy? 84 percent of Norwegians say they're satisfied with their lives, and 90 percent expect to be satisfied five years from now.
Why They're Happy: Norwegians aren't particularly rich, according to this survey, with incomes that are higher than average but wealth that is well below it (only $5,721 per household). Bur Norwegians are exceptionally likely to have a job: The employment rate is higher than all but two countries, and the long term unemployment rate is exceptionally low.
Norway is a safe city, with the homicide rate the fifth-lowest and few--14 percent of people--saying they feel unsafe on the streets after dark. Virtually all Norwegians--93%-- say they know someone they could rely on in a time of need. And 79 percent of Norwegian women with school age children are in the workforce at least part-time.
Why They're Not: Norway doesn't score hugely well on "community" rankings. 93 percent of Norwegians say they know someone they could turn to in a time of need, and only about 49 percent say they helped a stranger in the past month.
How Happy: 77 percent of New Zealanders say they're satisfied with their lives. Some 78 percent of New Zealanders say they have more positive experiences in an average day than negative ones, which also contributes to New Zealand's high ranking.Some 90 percent of New Zealanders say they're in good health.
Almost everyone—97 percent—says they know someone they could call on in a time of need. Nearly two out of three say they've helped a stranger within the past month.
The wage gap between men and women is currently 8 percent, the third-lowest level in the countries studied (not surprising, given that New Zealand was also the first modern country in which women could vote). Some 75 percent of New Zealand women are in the workforce after their children reach school age.
Why They're Not the Happiest: The average income in New Zealand is only $18,996.
How Happy: 83 percent of Swedes say they're satisfied with their lives, and 85 percent expect to be in five years. More than three-quarters of Swedes say they have more positive experiences than negative ones in an average day.
Why They're Happy: Some 85 percent of Swedish adults have earned a high school diploma, but 91 percent of those who are between the ages of 25 and 34 have done so. Some 13 percent of Swedes were born in other countries, and Sweden provides extensive government support for Swedish-language instruction, both for children (through the school system) and adults.
Sweden's homicide rate is one of the lowest among developed countries (The study focuses on homicide rates because unlike some other crimes, it's quite rare for a homicide to go unreported).
Sweden has the best air quality in the study.
Why they're not the Happiest: Five percent of Swedes say they've been a victim of assault within the past year
How Happy: Some 78 percent of Canadians say they're satisfied with their lives, and 85 percent believe their lives will be satisfying five years from now. A full 80 percent of Canadians say they have more positive than negative experiences each day. Some 88 percent of Canadians say they're in good health, the second highest of any country in the survey.
Why They're Happy: Canada has the lowest assault rate in the study, and the highest percentage of people -- 66 percent—that say they helped a stranger in the past month.
Some 87 percent of adults have a high school degree, and 92 percent of 25-34 year olds do. However, the real strength of Canada's educational system seems to be that its benefits seem to be evenly-distributed: Canadian students perform well regardless of socio-economic status and regardless of whether they are native-born.
Why They're Not the Happiest: Political engagement in Canada is just about average.
How Happy: Three-quarters of Australians say they're satisfied with their lives, and 83 percent say they expect to be satisfied in five years. Some 85 percent of Australians say they're in good health.
Why They're Happy: Australia gets the highest governance scores of any country in the study, which is a large part of reason the country ranks so high overall. Some 71 percent of people say they trust their political institutions, and voter turnout, at 95 percent of those registered, is the highest in the study. (And yes, voting is compulsory).
In all other areas, Australia ranks well too. Australians are the sixth-highest scoring in reading, but most importantly, the gap between high performing and low performing children is exceptionally small. Life expectancy, at 81.5 years, is the fourth-highest among member nations.
Some 71 percent of Australian women with school age children are in the workforce, and unlike many countries in the study, many of them are able to work full-time. Relatively few Australians work extremely long hours.