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On Top of the World … Or Not: Happiness in the U.S.


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On Top of the World … Or Not: Happiness in the U.S.

The definition of happiness differs from person to person, group to group. But based on measurable data including standard of living and mental health issues, countries and their residents can be ranked and compared by their overall happiness. So where does the U.S. fall and how does it compare to nations across the globe?

In the U.S.

With a relatively high standard of living, Americans generally are happier than those in other countries around the world. But what does that really mean? What are they happiest, or unhappiest, about?

A recent Gallup poll measured Americans’ feelings about their own lives in five categories. (1) For each category, people fit into one of three groups: suffering (low and inconsistent well-being), struggling (moderate and inconsistent well-being) or thriving (strong and consistent well-being). While most of us aren’t suffering, we aren’t thriving, either.

Category Suffering Struggling Thriving

Purpose 16% 48% 37%

What it covers: Liking your daily activities and feeling motivation to achieve your goals

Social 16% 43% 41%

What it covers: Having supportive relationships and love in one’s life

Financial 23% 38% 39%

What it covers: Managing economic life to reduce stress and enhance security

Community 15% 47% 38%

What it covers: Liking where you live, feeling safe and taking pride in community

Physical 12% 56% 33%

What it covers: Having good health and ample energy to get through the day

1 in 3

Americans who identified as “very happy” in a Harris Poll survey (2)

Why Aren’t We Happier?

With just one-third of Americans saying they’re very happy, what factors might be contributing to our moodiness?

Less than 50%

Percentage of both full- and part-time workers in the U.S. satisfied with their jobs (1)

1 in 7

Americans living in poverty (3)

133 million

Americans living with a chronic health condition (4)


U.S. unemployment rate, September 2014 (5)

3.5 million

Americans who experience homelessness each year (6)

Around the Globe

So how do Americans stack up against people in other countries? As you might expect, we’re not the happiest, but we’re not the most miserable either. According to a United Nations analysis of national sentiment, the happiest people in the world live in Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands. The least happy?

Factors considered include: (7)

  • Income
  • Political freedom
  • Strong social networks
  • Mental and physical health
  • Family stability
  • Standard of living
  • Employment

Those factors and others were combined to determine each country’s life satisfaction score, on a scale of 1-10.

Top 20 (8)

Norway, 7.7

Switzerland, 7.8

Canada, 7.4

Sweden, 7.6

New Zealand, 7.2

Featured Programs

Denmark, 7.5

Australia, 7.2

Finland, 7.4

Netherlands, 7.5

Luxembourg, 7

United States, 7

Ireland, 7

Iceland, 7.6

Germany, 6.7

Austria, 7.4

U.K., 6.9

Belgium, 6.9

Singapore, 6.5

Hong Kong, 5.5

France, 6.6

Bottom 20 (8)

Angola, 5.6

Nigeria, 5.5

Pakistan, 5.1

Mozambique, 5

Zimbabwe, 5

Mauritania, 4.7

Iraq, 4.7

Sudan, 4.6

Democratic Republic of the Congo, 4.6

Sierra Leone, 4.5

Djibouti, 4.4

Haiti, 4.4

Malawi, 4.3

Yemen, 4.1

Chad, 4

Afghanistan, 3.8

Guinea, 3.7

Burundi, 3.7

Central African Republic, 3.7

Syria, 3.2