Every year, more than 1 million people come to the United States in hopes of living the American dream. With so many people striving to immigrate to the U.S., you might think it’s the happiest country on earth. Not so. The U.S. is the No. 18 happiest country in the world while Finland is No. 1, according to the 2018 World Happiness Report. So, what do these countries offer that the U.S. doesn’t when it comes to happiness?
To find out if positive economic factors play a role, GOBankingRates crunched numbers on wages, unemployment rates and housing for the 15 happiest countries in the world.
Happiness rank: No. 18
Average annual wage: $46,467
Unemployment rate: 4.1 percent
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $1,199
The U.S. doesn’t rank among the best countries for the rich, and it barely scrapes into the top 20 when it comes to happiness. Gun violence and a changing political climate might have left some people unsettled, but the U.S. isn’t even in the top 30 for gun violence, according to NPR, and isn’t in the top 100 worldwide in homicide rates.
The 2017 Fragile States Index published by the Fund For Peace cites the U.S. as one of the 21 most stable countries in the world, and the World Happiness Report shows that U.S. citizens have a lower perception of their own country being corrupt than citizens in other, happier countries do.
The U.S. fell to No. 18 from No. 14 last year in the World Happiness Report, in part due to untreated depression, obesity and substance abuse, according to one of the report’s editors, Jeffrey D. Sachs.
Happiness rank: No. 15
Average annual wage: $55,824
Unemployment rate: 3.6 percent
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $824
Germany has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, perhaps attributing to its overall happiness. Housing costs are on the lower end of the spectrum.
The German Glücksatlas survey reported that Germans score their happiness at 7.07 out of 10, based on the country’s healthy economic climate. The country has experienced an overall growth in wealth unsurpassed since the 1960s.
Want to Move Abroad? 50 Cheapest Countries to Live In
Happiness rank: No. 14
Average annual wage: $48,638
Unemployment rate: 6.1 percent
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $1,472
Although Ireland is one of the most expensive countries to live in, and the unemployment rate and cost of housing are higher, the Irish are significantly happier. Perhaps their sense of community is the leading force toward their happiness.
According to the OECD Better Life Index, 96 percent of people in Ireland think there is someone they can count on in an emergency or time of need. The average in the OECD is 89 percent.
Happiness rank: No. 13
Average annual wage: $13,512
Unemployment rate: 9.3 percent
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $513
Costa Rica has the lowest average annual wage of any of the happiest countries in the world, with its citizens making about $33,000 less per year than in the U.S. and about $22,000 less than in the next-lowest-paid happy country, Israel. Costa Rica has the second-highest unemployment rate of any of the 15 happiest countries but the lowest rent.
Citizens also pay less for healthcare, which costs up to a third less than in the U.S., according to a separate GOBankingRates study.
Happiness rank: No. 12
Average annual wage: $39,090
Unemployment rate: 9.5 percent
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $833
Austrians average nearly $10,000 less annually in salary than U.S. citizens and experience some the highest unemployment rates to go with a 31.9 percent personal income tax. However, they enjoy greater life happiness overall, with high satisfaction levels for safety, health and overall life satisfaction. Austrians also enjoy a strong sense of community and a stable economy.
Happiness rank: No. 11
Average annual wage: $35,052
Unemployment rate: 4 percent
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $979
Strong social support is a major factor for Israeli happiness, according to the World Happiness Report. Among the happiest people in the country are Russia-born immigrants who evaluate their life in Israel as much more positive than in their homeland, despite simultaneously experiencing setbacks or adverse outcomes.
Happiness rank: No. 10
Average annual wage: $48,638
Unemployment rate: 5.5 percent
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $1,343
Australia dropped from its No. 9 ranking a year before but still stands eight spots higher than the U.S. Nonetheless, 71 percent of Australians feel optimistic about the future, with women and people between the ages of 35 and 49 feeling the most optimistic, according to the Medibank Better Health Index.
Feeling the Struggle? 10 Reasons America’s Middle Class Faces a Bleak Financial Future
Happiness rank: No. 9
Average annual wage: $43,181
Unemployment rate: 7 percent
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $892
People living and working in Sweden have a lower annual wage and higher unemployment rate than U.S. citizens, but they dwell in one of the five most economically stable countries in the world, according to the Fund for Peace Fragile States Index. They also prioritize time enjoying life. U.S. workers get an average of 16 days of paid leave — and often don’t take it — but Swedes get 25.
Happiness rank: No. 8
Average annual wage: $46,758
Unemployment rate: 4.5 percent
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $1,065
Although New Zealanders average a few hundred dollars more per year than U.S. citizens, New Zealand has a higher unemployment rate and a higher cost of living for everything except rent.
Residents of this country also pay higher taxes, with a 33 percent rate for top earners and a 15 percent tax on goods and services. However, the money benefits the country’s citizens, improving quality of life for Kiwis through old-age pensions, parental leave, healthcare subsidies and other financial benefits.
Happiness rank: No. 7
Average annual wage: $40,602
Unemployment rate: 5.9 percent
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $920
On average, Canadians make nearly $6,000 less than Americans, but citizens of the Great White North pay a lower income tax rate than U.S. citizens do, which is sure to bring a smile to their faces.
Happiness rank: No. 6
Average annual wage: $44,942
Unemployment rate: 4.2 percent
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $1,141
Although the Netherlands is one of the least tax-friendly countries in the world, citizens of this country experience higher life satisfaction than people in the U.S. They also enjoy 6 percent lower rent as well as significant savings on groceries.
The World Happiness Report lists the country as one of the most welcoming and tolerant in the world, leading to significant satisfaction among immigrants.
Happiness rank: No. 5
Average annual wage: $80,068
Unemployment rate: 3.3 percent
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $1,504
With the highest annual average income of any country in the World Happiness Report combined with the lowest unemployment rate, Swiss citizens have a lot to be happy about. They also enjoy the third most stable economic and political climate in the world, according to the Fund For Peace Fragile States index.
Happiness rank: No. 4
Average annual wage: $73,431
Unemployment rate: 3.9 percent
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $1,778
Just looking at Iceland’s stunning scenery could make a person happy, but factor in daily life in one of the most economically stable countries in the world and there is a lot to smile about. The average income is 58 percent higher than that of the U.S., but citizens pay an income tax of only 3 percentage points higher.
Happiness rank: No. 3
Average annual wage: $79,570
Unemployment rate: 4.2
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $1,080
Even though its personal income tax is one of the highest in the world at 36.2 percent, Denmark ranks as the third-happiest country on the planet. Like other countries at the top of the list, Denmark has a stable economy and political climate to go with above-average social benefits for its citizens.
Happiness rank: No. 2
Average annual wage: $67,964
Unemployment rate: 4.1 percent
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $1,312
An income tax rate of 27.9 percent might not make the average American citizen happy, but Norway provides some of the best social and work benefits in the world for its citizens, greatly improving quality of life.
Parents with children younger than 18 enjoy cash benefits for raising and caring for their children, building a strong family dynamic and combating poverty. Citizens enjoy basic healthcare throughout their lives, and elders draw a pension as early as age 62.
Happiness rank: No. 1
Average annual wage: $50,098
Unemployment rate: 8.8 percent
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment: $917
Although Disney World monikers itself as “The Happiest Place on Earth,” the fun times end when the park closes at the end of the day. Finland, meanwhile, is the happiest place in the world to live in 2018, even though its citizens pay 30.8 percent personal income tax and the sun doesn’t rise at all for 51 days a year in a portion of Northern Finland. Politics, economic stability and strong social support contribute to the country’s No. 1 position this year.
Click through to see how much the average person makes around the world.
More on Wealth and Making Money
- These Places Will Pay You to Live There — But There’s a Catch
- Nearly 50% of Americans Say Being ‘Rich’ Isn’t About the Money
- Minimum Salary You Need to Be Happy in Every State
- Watch: Treating Finances Like a Game Will Help Get You Rich
Methodology: GOBankingRates used the 2018 World Happiness report to source the top 15 highest-ranking cities. From there, we determined the average annual wage and unemployment rate for each country (sourced from Trading Economics) as well as the monthly cost of a one-bedroom apartment in a city center (sourced from Numbeo) to identify correlations between economic factors and overall happiness.