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The Happiest Countries in the World: Where Does America Rank?

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There was a time when the words America and happy were almost synonymous. My, how quickly things can change and not for the better. But, then again, does that even matter? Well, in fact, it matters a lot because when the people of a country are happy, when they feel good about their lot in life and the society in which they live, they are much more productive, and their country benefits greatly as a result.

A study was recently conducted by the OECD, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, an international economic organization comprised of 34 countries, founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade. It is a forum of countries committed to promote democracy and the market economy.

The study measured the overall well-being of people in 36 major countries of the world (the original 34 plus Russia and Brazil) based on 11 key measurement factors: housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance.

The main point of the Better Life Index, as the article states is: "There's been a lot of debate lately on measuring the well-being of societies -- is wealth all that matters, or should we be looking at other things, like the balance between work and the rest of our lives? The Index aims to involve citizens in this debate, and to empower them to become more informed and engaged in the policy-making process that shapes all our lives."

This is an annual study and the results always seem to be about the same. Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland always seem to be ranked at or near the top of the list. What is it about these Scandinavian countries that make their people so happy and content? What's their formula for success?

Well let's analyze this situation and try to come up with a meaningful answer to that question? What makes these nations so different, why do they stand out above the rest of these other countries? Well, right off we might say that these are all very peaceful countries that use the wealth and resources that they possess for positive, constructive endeavors that benefit all the people that live within their borders.

So now let's expand on that thought and list some of the more important policies, actions and endeavors of these countries that make them unique and different.

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When we look at the countries that rate the highest, we see that education is a top priority in all of them. Many of these countries, notably Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, France and Germany, provide some form of free higher education for students entering college, vocational, or technical schools. When studies of academic excellence are done these are the countries that are consistently ranked at the top. As this study indicates, the U.S. lags behind as it is rated the 21st nation out of the 36. That should be very disturbing to the America people, and it may be difficult to accept, but it's reality.

One thing is for certain; none of the high achieving countries weigh down their students with monumental student debt as is the case in America; and their governments do not generate billions of profits from the interest earned on these loans such as the U.S. government does.

These top rated countries most certainly have to deal with some degree of societal violence but they have generally low crime rates; it's not a significant problem. Their prisons are not overflowing. These countries do not allow the unrestricted proliferation of guns and other weaponry in their societies. They do not have "Stand Your Ground" and "Concealed Carry" laws that have become prevalent, in one form or another, in every state of America. None of these countries has capital punishment because it's against their principles of morality.

Let's talk about jobs. In my view there is nothing more important for a citizen of a country than to have than the opportunity to be employed, to be productive, and not be dependent upon their government for assistance. One very significant conclusion of this study was that "while jobs provide financial security they also affect a person's mental well-being." That "when people lose jobs they don't just lose a salary, they really lose out on their ability to be connected to society." Hello! Is America, the business sector and the U.S. government listening?

Health care that covers all the people of a society to the same degree is present in one form or another in every one of these advanced nations. They provide health care for all of their citizens; no one is excluded. These systems, in most cases, are exemplary; their costs are far lower than those in the U.S., mainly because their laws exclude profit-making insurance companies from any involvement.
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Inequality of income and wealth is a universal problem that is present in almost all of the countries in the world, to one extent or another. While the U.S. has the highest per-capita income in the world its inequality is far greater than all the other countries with the exception of Turkey, Mexico and Chile. To have the highest income and one of the worst cases of inequality is a clear indication that there is a tremendous imbalance in America between the rich and all other Americans; an imbalance that will eventually bring down capitalism in the U.S.

Life satisfaction is a very important measurement of how people evaluate their own well being. It involves their state of health, their ability to perform a job, education, and housing among other factors. In this category America does not do well. Life satisfaction in the U.S. which was ranked 14th in the world in last year's report dropped to 17th in 2014; we're going in the wrong direction as is evident for anyone who is aware of what is happening in this country.

Voting is an important function in all these high-ranking countries, all of which have some form of democracy. We know that the voter turnout in America is abysmal and continues to worsen; the typical turnout for national presidential elections is typically no more than 55%. And it's far, far worse in the general congressional elections. So while the people of America have a Constitutional right to vote, millions refuse to exercise that right. What does this study indicate about how people in other countries exercise their voting rights?

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Michael Payne is an independent, progressive activist. His writings deal with social, economic, political and foreign policy issues. He is a featured writer on Opednews and Nation of Change and his articles have appeared on many other websites (more...)

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