World's Happiest Countries

By Andy Reinhardt - 2012-05-25T15:21:49Z

Photograph by Andrew Watson/Getty Images

Company Symbol % Change
1 of 14

Australia Tops OECD Better Life Index

People all over the world are fascinated by happiness rankings and how their own countries fare in global league tables. In some places, such as Britain, ratings of national well-being aren't just a matter for policy wonks but a subject of widespread popular interest.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is the latest institution to jump into the happiness-rating business with its new Better Life Initiative, a detailed survey of 24 indicators in 11 categories--ranging from civic engagement to environmental quality--across its 34 member states plus Brazil and Russia.

When all of the categories are weighted equally, the top-performing country in the world is Australia, cited for its strong community spirit and high level of life satisfaction. The lowest-ranked country among those studied was Turkey, whose weak scores on the same two criteria dragged it below Mexico, Chile, and Brazil.

The OECD emphasizes on its Better Life Initiative web site that the rankings aren't absolute: By changing weightings on the criteria--say, to emphasize education or housing--users can alter the overall country scores according to their areas of interest.

Read on for an introduction to the world's happiest countries.