We spend the majority of our lives working, so it’s no wonder that the amount of work and what type of work we partake in greatly shapes our levels of happiness. Work-life balance, among many other facets, is a strong predictor of one’s happiness. Looking at data from the happiest countries on Earth, we begin to see a correlation.
Happiest Countries in the World Compared to Hours Worked/year – Data as of 2016 OECD.Stat
1. Norway – 1,424
2. Denmark – 1,410
3. Iceland – 1,883
4. Switzerland – 1,590 (as of 2015)
5. Finland – 1,653
6. The Netherlands – 1,430
7. Canada – 1,703
8. New Zealand – 1,752
9. Australia – 1,669
10. Sweden- 1, 621
Honorable Mention – Israel, Costa Rica, Austria & USA – 1,783
There are several similarities the happiest countries in the world share. “Among the top four happiest countries, they all rank highly on the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance (World Happiness Report).” To become one of the world’s happiest countries to live in, you must encompass each of these qualities to a certain extent.
Many countries have traditions embedded in their culture that contribute to happiness. Take The Netherlands for example, they rank highest in the world in physical activity. The ratio between an individual and a bike are roughly 1:1. Their bike lanes are almost more crowded than their streets. In Sweden, a strong sense of community is prioritized through the tradition known as fika, loosely translated into “break time,” when locals meet over coffee to catch up, eat treats or maybe even share in some juicy gossip. Denmark also shares this characteristic of community by offering an abundance of free public services, such as health care and education.
Caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health and good governance are all covered greatly here, but what about income, one of the other main factors of happiness? If you look solely at this determinant, all arrows point directly to the US. With the largest economy in the world, the vast majority of Americans are either upper-middle income or high-income on a global scale (Pew Research). Now compare this to the happiest country on Earth, Norway, and we see USA’s economic power is 9 times greater. So, what is it that Norway has which America lacks in regards to happiness?
One aspect to consider is Norway works 359 hours less than citizens in the United States. If you’re like most Americans and work a 40 hour work week, that’s roughly 9 weeks more than Norwegians. You may think, well the more hours worked, the more money you will gain and the better off you will be. However, “in richer countries the within-country differences are not mainly explained by income inequality, but by differences in mental health, physical health and personal relationships: the biggest single source of misery is mental illness” (World Happiness Report). The quality of health in Norway is 10% greater compared to the United States (Nation Master). USA may be getting richer by working longer hours, but it’s not getting any healthier, and in result, it’s not getting any happier. Ponder that.
Americans fail to build the “life” half of “work-life balance,” and as consequence, let their jobs weigh heavy over their lives.
Iceland, interestingly enough, works 100 more hours than the United States. What’s their secret? The percentage of the population who report having someone to count on in times of trouble is the highest in Iceland at 99 percent. Even more striking, Iceland was one of only three countries in 2016 to maintain or improve their happiness score despite the 2008 economic crisis and natural disasters. As a function of a collective enterprise, Icelanders have each other’s backs in times of tragedy. Trust and community are key contributing factors here. Additionally, Iceland offers low income tax, free health care, and free higher education to its citizens, while also publishing more books per capita than any country in the world.
Although America has proved to have strong income and a stable economy, it falls short on encompassing all the building blocks leading to happiness. Americans fail to build the “life” half of “work-life balance,” and as consequence, let their jobs weigh heavy over their lives.
While America has placed a large emphasis on individual income, it lacks emphasis on establishing trust and faith in society and in each other. In America, we have less social mobility than our Scandinavian counterparts. Gaps in income have widened so much, with the occurrence of big money and with billionaires backing up politicians, that our level of trust has gone down in result. The answer is not income, it’s health and community.
If you do not live in a Nordic country seated high in the Northern Hemisphere or live low in the Southern Hemisphere, remember happiness isn’t solely based on income. Although it does play a part, it may not lead you to the greatest level of happiness in and of itself. Shifting our focus on all the main factors of happiness such as caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, good governance and income, as a bundle, will ultimately lead us to greater happiness.