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10 Countries Where You’d Be Healthier & Happier

December 8th, 2010

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Despite the fervent belief by some Tea Partiers in American exceptionalism, there are several places on Earth where you'd probably be happier living. Healthier, too. Forbes has gathered information about both classes of country (here and here), and it's from these helpful lists, neither of which features the U.S. in the top 10, that this larger one is drawn. Yes, the United States is a wonderful place: freedom of speech, Law & Order reruns, and cheap fuel. But if you want to really enjoy your life, your job and your friends, you might want to consider relocating.

  1. Denmark: Denmark clocks in as the happiest country, with 82 percent of citizens thriving and only 1 percent suffering, with 17 percent listed as struggling. The universal health care system, though not the most efficient of the countries that use such a plan, also comes into play to make Denmark a healthy and appealing option, with life expectancy of about 70 years for men and women. Plus, come on, it's Denmark: winters hover around 32 degrees Fahrenheit with August temperatures averaging around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and you can bike pretty much everywhere.
  2. Finland: Ranking second in happiness and third in health according to the folks at Forbes, Finland is yet another tiny European country that's teaching the world how to live. Fully three-fourths of the population is financially thriving, with only 2 percent categorized as suffering (in contrast, 57 percent of Americans are classified as thriving, which is still pretty great, but not Finland-great). After watching a sizeable portion of their population succumb to heart disease decades ago, the government instituted healthy eating programs that have driven the death rate from heart disease into the basement. People live longer and enjoy those lives more.
  3. Sweden: With an impressive gap between the percentage of citizens thriving versus those struggling (68 percent and 30 percent, respectively), Sweden easily ranks as one of the happiest places to live. Its health credentials are equally impressive: some of the cleanest air in the world, a strong number of physicians, and the lowest infant mortality rate on the planet. It's basically a pristine, nurturing place to live and buy easy-to-assemble furniture. In the southern part of the country, the weather stays temperate year-round, with winters in the 50s and summers in the 60s and 70s. Why haven't you bought a ticket yet?
  4. Iceland: Iceland proves its healthiness in its life expectancy rates, which are 72 for men and 74 for women. The clean, crisp countryside is also relatively pollution-free, and citizens are encouraged to stay healthy thanks to one of the highest densities of physicians anywhere in the world (almost four per 1,000 people). The economics aren't as strong as other nations, with about half the population thriving and half struggling, but the unshakeable link between health and happiness keeps this country among the best even for those who earn less.
  5. Austria: You should just get used to the fact that most of these will be in Europe. With a solid number (57 percent) of citizens thriving, not to mention a high number of physicians, Austria is yet another example of how life can be better in a foreign country smaller than Maine. Two-thirds of the country is in the Alps, too, which means you're basically living like the Von Trapps.
  6. Netherlands: The Netherlands falls a bit below the health peak because of the pollution evident in its urban areas, particularly Amsterdam. But the high life expectancy and low disease rate, couple with a sturdy economy that sees 68 percent of its people thriving, make this one of the happiest and healthiest countries in the world. The weather's just plain gorgeous, too: average highs in the 40s in winter and the 70s in summer. Art, history, culture, and sunshine.
  7. Switzerland: The thriving citizens outnumber the struggling ones nearly 2 to 1 in Switzerland, and they're all healthy, too. The country spends more than 10 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, one of the highest percentages in the world, and that contributes to longer, healthier lives (the life expectancy is 71 for men and 75 for women). Switzerland gets a bit of a bad rap, or at least a cartoony one, in the western world: it's known for knives, chocolate, clocks, and stringent neutrality. But clearly they're doing something right.
  8. Australia: Australia enjoys another large gap between the amount of thriving and struggling/suffering citizens, thanks in large part to a health care system that doesn't send premiums skyrocketing for the elderly or those who've made a higher number of claims than average. Plus the environment is one of the cleanest around, which not only boosts health but contributes to happiness and overall quality of life. A heaven for those who love the outdoors.
  9. Costa Rica: Costa Rica's health is average, but what makes the country so special is how unexpectedly high its happiness rating is. Fully 63 percent of its people are thriving, thanks in many ways to a cultural emphasis on community and togetherness that bonds the citizens to each other in a manner often lost in larger countries. It's one of the highest ranked countries in the world in terms of environmental performance and human development, too.
  10. Canada: This one has to upset Americans. Canada, right next door, is happier and healthier than the superpower with which it shares a border. Despite a relatively low number of doctors per capita, the socialized medicine (which sounds awesome right now) and long life expectancies make Canada one of the safest places to live. They've also got a high number of financially thriving citizens, boosting their happiness ranking several notches past that of the United States. We're so close, yet so far.

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