New Global Happiness Survey: Where Does the U.S. Rank?

For as obsessed as Americans are with that word — “happiness” — it seems we still have not cracked the code. The United States ranked 17th in happiness out of 156 countries surveyed, in the United Nations’ second World Happiness Report, released Monday.

Overall, happiness among Americans dropped a tad from the previous (and first) report released in 2012, which was based on data collected between the years of 2005 to 2011. Areas that experienced the greatest hikes in happiness, compared to the last survey, were Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, and areas that dropped were the ones bogged down by turbulent times, such as Egypt, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

The top 10 happiest countries are:

  1. Denmark
  2. Norway
  3. Switzerland
  4. Netherlands
  5. Sweden
  6. Canada
  7. Finland
  8. Austria
  9. Iceland
  10. Australia

In order to collect data for the report, people in more than 150 countries completed Gallup surveys intended to gauge how satisfied they were with their lives overall. The researchers identified these six key variables related to happiness: healthy life expectancy, real GDP per capita, having a loved one to count on for support, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption and generosity. The report was released just as heads of state prepare for the UN General Assembly, and its drafters say they’d like to see well-being considered as a critical component in measures of social and economic development.

Americans have been quite taken with the word “happiness,” especially the idea of it and how to achieve it, for quite some time. Self-help books on the topic are devoured by the masses who hope to take pearls away from the pages. There are at least 45,000 examples of such books currently available for purchase. Gretchen Rubin’s book club favorite, The Happiness Project, lingered on the New York Times bestseller list more than 100 days. I recently completed a consulting project for a newly launched start-up called Happify, which guides users through the latest findings in happiness research with a series of passages, quizzes and suggested tasks and activities. Among Amazon’s bestsellers in the self-help arena are The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Guided Mindfulness Meditation, I AM Wishes Fulfilled Meditation and The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom.

But with all this purchasing and poring over text, we’re still not among those at the top of the happiness list. Why does it matter? Well, happy people have been found to live longer, more productive lives, earn more and be more involved citizens.

Julie D. Andrews is a writer and editor living in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @julieDandrews. 

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