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Most Cheerful Nations

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    Posted: Jul/11/2011 at 2:28pm
It's easy to focus on all the things that are wrong in the place you live, whether it's endless traffic, tangled bureaucracy, high unemployment or worse.

But how often do you give thought to the things that make your country a pretty great place to live? The Better Life Initiative , a recent project conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), set out to determine which countries had the levels of well-being, based on 11 general categories.

The study touched on everything from work-life balance, safety, education, housing, environment and jobs to measure quality of life based on essential material conditions

Below are the top five countries considered the world's happiest, and what factors catapulted them to the top.

1. Australia

It could be the great climate, the beautiful beaches or the friendly people, but folks in Oz live longer than average, 81.5 years. Chalk it up to a health-conscious population and an environmentally friendly ethos. Civic participation also positions Australia at number one, with 95 per cent regularly turning out to vote. By far the highest percentage in the OECD.

2. Canada

Our home and native land sits close to the top, with high marks for average household income ($27,015 USD) and employment (72 per cent of people aged 15 — 64 have a paying job). Social relationships play a key role in a person's overall well-being and 95 per cent reported having someone they could rely on in a time of need. These, and other factors, contributed to 78 per cent of Canadians saying they were satisfied with their life — higher than the 59 per cent OECD average.

3. Sweden

Liberal-minded society: check. A highly-educated population: check. Low crime rate: check. Scandinavia often crushes the competition in happiness polls, and this study is no exception.

4. New Zealand

Australia's close neighbour, this charming island country earned top marks for sense of community. With 97 per cent saying they knew someone they could rely on in a time of need, New Zealand can boast one of the highest scores in the category. Crime is also a relatively low concern, with only 2 per cent falling victim to assault over the past 12 months.

5. Norway

Capping off the top five is another Scandinavian country famous for its delicious salmon, Vikings and the '80s hair band, a-ha. According to the OECD index, it's also famous for its economy. Although an expensive place to live, workers make much more than the average at $29,365 USD. And for all that cash, the employed put in far fewer work hours than average at 1407 per year (compare that to Canada at 1699). Seventy nine per cent of mothers go back to work after childbirth, and 81 per cent of the population holds a high school diploma or higher. All this contributes to an overall life satisfaction rating of 84 per cent — much higher than the average.

(Photo credit: Sergio Moraes/Reuters)

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