Is Your Country Happy?

Are you happy? Can you buy lots of cool stuff? Are these two things perfectly correlated? No, not really. Studies have shown that we might anticipate the purchase of a material thing, but its effect on our happiness depreciates very quickly. Experiences tend to last longer in terms of emotional value.

Still, would you give up your iPhone forever to live happily in the woods with no electricity and running water? Likely most of us would not. So, when it comes to Quality of Life indices, how do you separate out the squishy emotional components of well-being from the harder, more literal measures of economic well-being?

In other words, when comparing cool places to live, how do you decide between cash and happiness? You want both of course. But what kind of balance between money in the bank and a satisfying life-experience do you aim for?

We looked at the top 25 countries in terms of the Quality of Life index at Numbeo – the self-assessment aggregator where us consumers input the numbers directly into their data banks, before they do the statistical crunching.

If you deduct their Consumer Price + Rent Index from their Quality of Life index that gives you a rough measure of how much value is left over, after you’ve bought food and drink, and then paid the rent. You would hope the number would be positive, and in the top 25 it is. The countries have way more to offer than rent, food, and drink obviously. You can call it: The Value of Living Somewhere = Quality of Life – Cost of Life. 

If you take that rough measure of The Value of Living Somewhere, and compare it to the Local Purchasing Power Index – how much stuff you can buy on an average wage, compared to someone in New York – then you have an interesting contrast between Happiness (Quality of Life – Cost of Life) and Utility (How much stuff you can buy).

How do the Numbeo Top 25 countries do when balancing cash and happiness? Consider the following graphic:

Purchasing Power

Local Purchasing Power (stuff you can buy on an average salary compared to NYC) is deducted from the Value of Living Somewhere (Quality of Life minus CPI and Rent) to see how much happiness is really left over after you pay off your Credit Card bills.

Applying this formula to our Top 25 countries we get a few surprises:


25. Switzerland

Geneva via

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Ouch, our land of not-so-secret-anymore bank accounts, world class companies and tennis pros and perfect skiing may not be such a happy country. Score:

Switzerland is not so happy


24. Ireland

Dublin via

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The Emerald Isle is more about green bits of paper – ok, they’re not green but you get the point – than the green fields of innocent happiness.

Ireland is not happy


23. The United States of America

Washington via

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There are over 30 million Americans with a little Irish in them, so it makes sense they would be brethren on this chart.

The US is unhappy


22. Australia

by Rosino / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Speaking of Irish immigration, no surprises here mate.

Australia is unhappy


21. Norway

Norway via

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Is all that oil money in their Sovereign Wealth Fund making them bitter?

Norway is unhappy


20. South Korea

South Korea via

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They have progressed at astonishing rates since the early 60s. Maybe they’re just a little worn out. 

South Korea is unhappy


19. Canada

Niagara Falls via

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One word: Winter. Otherwise we would be the happiest country in the world.

Canada is unhappy


18. Israel

Jerusalem via

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No gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. Just a slightly cautious and rather prosperous outlook on life.

Israel is unhappy


17. Finland

Helsinki via

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Do Finns have fun? They did invent the sauna…

Finland is not sure


16. The United Kingdom

Tower Bridge via

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Nearly all surplus happiness allocated to bourgeois consumption with just a dash of happy to spare for a rainy day.

The UK is almost happy


15. Belgium

Brussels via

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Huh? Who knew the Belgians would be as balanced as the British? Despite the EU.

Belgium is slightly happy


14. Japan

Castle in Japan via

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Even more Zen than Beverly Hills but not quite as shopping crazed. 

Japan is happy!


13. France

Mont Saint Michel via

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Who else at lucky 13 than the glorious Gallic Republic?

France is Happy!


12. Denmark

Christianborg Castle via

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You’d think they’d have more fun than Sweden seeing the weather is not quite as cold. 

Denmark is Happy!


11. Sweden

Stockholm via

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Just ahead of Denmark on the surplus happiness scale. Despite not seeing the sun half the year.

Sweden is Happy!


10. Germany

Berlin via

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They actually don’t spend all their happiness! They must have a BundesGlück somewhere.

Germany is Happy!


9. Netherlands

Amsterdam via

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A very practical country. Where people like to make money. But also like to be happy.

The Netherlands is Happy!


8. Austria

Salzburg via

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Ok, we’re getting into serious surplus happiness territory now. They say Vienna is a great city to enjoy life in.

Austria is Happy!


7. New Zealand

New Zealand via

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Wow. What a difference from their loud neighbours. 

New Zealand is Very Happy!


6. Spain

Alhambra via

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Ah, what a real estate meltdown can do! Suddenly not quite as expensive but still a great place to visit, or to live.

Spain is Very Happy!


5. Czech Republic

Prague via

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Prague is beautiful. The pilsner is world class. And this is the first country on our list who can’t keep up with the Jones in NYC. Does it matter?

Czech Republic is Happy!


4. Slovenia

Blejski via

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They have an Adriatic coast and are southern neighbours to those hedonistic Austrians. Sounds like a good mix.

Slovenia is very happy!


3. Greece

Acropolis via

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Happiness in the land of Aeschylus and Oedipus? And a crisis that has anarchists torching your local bank branch?

Greece is very Happy!


2. Portugal

Lisbon via

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Wine, sun, good seafood, world-class soccer stars and cheap prices! Even in Euros!

Portugal is very Happy!


1. Croatia


[Public Domain]

The war is long over. Long live happiness.

Croatia is the happiest!

Who would have thought that Croatia is number 1 in terms of surplus happiness? Maybe you’d prefer Paris or New York. Or Milan (Italy did not make the top 25). But for Croatians the future seems pretty good.

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