Woman runs along beach at sunset in Israel Woman runs along beach at sunset in Israel There are many facets to happiness – from the simple joy of a sunset stroll to more complex measures of financial stability. (Photo: vvvita / Shutterstock)

Making better lives: What we can learn from 5 of the happiest countries

The OECD's Better Life Index measures well-being across dozens of countries, but a handful stand out.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has a simple mission, but an important one: to improve the lives of citizens across the world. Through OECD, 34 member countries' governments are able to work together to find viable solutions to issues that transcend borders. But the organization also takes a magnifying glass to the local and personal level of world citizens – the Better Life Initiative compares dozens of countries on a variety of measures that all factor into well-being for citizens, reminding us all what's really important and encouraging people around the globe to strive for more.

The OECD's Better Life Index measures everything from community support to work-life balance as a multifaceted way to assess happiness. According to the OECD, the index analyzes the following 11 categories:

  1. Housing: Housing condition and spendings
  2. Income: Household income and financial wealth
  3. Jobs: Earnings, job security and unemployment
  4. Community: Quality of your social support network
  5. Education: Your education and what you get out of it
  6. Environment: Quality of your environment
  7. Civic engagement: Your involvement in democracy
  8. Health: How healthy you are
  9. Life Satisfaction: How happy you are
  10. Safety: Murder and assault rates
  11. Work-life balance: How much you work, how much you play

Little toddler runs through Yosemite National ParkNational Parks in the United States, like Yosemite, are filled with smiling faces. (Photo: MiniImpressions/Shutterstock)

Each OECD country ranks differently for each of these categories. The United States, for example, ranks highest for household income, household wealth and personal earnings. But as we all know, money doesn't buy happiness – when it came down to assessing life satisfaction, poor rankings in work-life balance no doubt have played a role in the U.S.'s below-average score.

Though these measurements of happiness each have their merit, the simplest way to assess how happy people in a country are at a glance is to look at their overall life satisfaction. Perhaps the most subjective of OECD's findings, the life satisfaction rating asks people to take a step back and think about their lives as a whole.

Five countries in particular stand out when it comes to life satisfaction: Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland and Israel. Here's what stands out about each of them.

Denmark

Couple walks through woods in DenmarkWork-life balance is easy to maintain in Denmark with relaxing walks in the woods as motivation! (Photo: jean schweitzer/Shutterstock)

Denmark currently has a life satisfaction score of 7.5 (out of 10). It ranks at the top for work-life balance and also boasts high scores for the environment, civic engagement, education, all financial aspects and personal security. One thing that stands out about Denmark is that according to the index, 95 percent of people believe they can find support when they need it.


Iceland

Man hikes in IcelandBeautiful, vast natural landscapes contribute to Iceland's high environmental rankings. (Photo: Maridav/Shutterstock)

Iceland also has a rating of 7.5 when it comes to life satisfaction. It tops the charts for jobs and earnings and also earns points for social connections, health, and education. In Finland, 97 percent of people are satisfied with the quality of air and water – perhaps being surrounded by such breathtaking scenery is motivation for citizens to do their part for the environment!


Switzerland

Two young men play frisbee in Brunnen, SwitzerlandWith such fantastic views, how could people in Switzerland be mad? (Photo: Maryna Patzen/Shutterstock)

Switzerland comes in third with a 7.5 for life satisfaction. Health and wealth are this country's high points, as well as education and personal security. According to OECD, 80 percent of working-age people in Switzerland have paying jobs.


Finland

A little girl skis at a resort in FinlandChildren in Finland have a bright future ahead of them with a strong educational system in place. (Photo: Max Topchii/Shutterstock)

With a 7.4 life satisfaction score, Finland also makes it at the top of the list. Finland gets an A+ for education and skills and is also known for its civic engagement and work-life balance. In Finland, 85 percent of adults have upper secondary education under their belts.


Israel

Israeli high school graduates make a gleeful run towards the Mediterranean SeaIsraeli high school graduates make a gleeful run toward the Mediterranean Sea. Israel's beaches are more than just beautiful – they foster an active lifestyle. (Photo: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock)

With a life satisfaction score of 7.4, Israel ranks above average for health and subjective well-being. With a life expectancy of 82 years, Israelis live two years longer than the OECD average. Additionally, 80 percent of people in Israel reported that they are healthy, well over the OECD average of 68 percent – we can thank the Mediterranean diet for that!

What factors are most important to your own happiness? Rate each of the categories according to your own thoughts on well-being and compare your ideal world to those across the globe at OECDBetterLifeIndex.org.

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