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Happiest Place On Earth

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See for yourself where America is on the Happiness scale

Considering all things, on a scale of one to 10, how happy would you say you are?

How happy do you think your family is? Here's the biggie, how happy are you-and-your-fellow Americans altogether?

With that question and global surveys, folks at the "World Database of Happiness" ranked 95 nations on a happiness scale.

Switzerland's citizens closely trail the Danish, each reporting average happiness level of 8.1 (out of 10), followed by Iceland (7.8), Finland (7.7), Australia (7.7) and Sweden (7.7), all the way down to grim Moldova (3.5).

happiness
"Adding all things together on a scale of 1 to 10, how happy would you say you are?"

While the Netherlands ranks only 15th on the list of the world's happiest countries, its industrial capital, Rotterdam is home to the databases currently housed at Reassume University. RU's Director, Ruut Veenhoven, has made researching which nations are home to the happiest citizens, his lifelong work.

Rutt's research shows that Scandinavian nations come out on top, making up 5 of the 13 happiest nations. Denmark tops the list as a whole - its citizens rank average happiness at 8.2 on a 10-point scale.

Inspired by Veenhoven's rankings, former foreign correspondent for National Public Radio (and self-proclaimed grouch) Eric Weiner embarked on a quest to visit the happiest places on earth. In his book "The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World," Weiner immerses himself in the cultural fabric of the world's happiest countries to pinpoint exactly why residents of some countries, like Iceland and Switzerland, are so downright satisfied with their lives.

The Swiss, Weiner discovered, are efficient and punctual, comparatively wealthy and face hardly any unemployment. Their streets, air and tap water are squeaky clean and chocolate is a national obsession.

But Weiner saw no true joy in their faces. He reasons that maybe it's better to live in some middle range than to vacillate between gleeful moments of elation and gut-wrenching spates of despair.

Swiss happiness, is "more than mere contentment, but less than full-on joy." Because the country is dark and cold, Weiner was initially skeptical about Iceland's ranking as the 4th happiest nation in the world. Then he learned the small nation is quite literally a family; curiously, geneticists have found that all Icelandic citizens are related.

Certain phrases in the Icelandic language, Weiner finds, are even more telling. When people greet each other, the phrase they use roughly translates to "come happy," and when people part, they utter the equivalent of "go happy." The country is a favorite playground to artists, it cultivates creative spirit; the government supports writers with generous subsidies.

In stark contrast to Iceland and Switzerland, Weiner visited Moldova. Citizens of this former Soviet republic, according to database figures, rate their happiness at 3.5. The nation, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, had been relatively prosperous until the Berlin wall fell after which per-capita income has dropped to only $880 per year.

Happiness is not based on just money. Nigeria and Bangladesh are poorer and happier, Weiner points out that Moldova compares itself to Italy and Germany. The country also lacks a distinct culture or any semblance of national pride. Government officials even speak Russian - the language of their oppressors during much of the last century. Denmark tops the list of the world's happiest countries, its citizens average happiness ranking at 8.2 on a 10-point scale, according to the World Database of Happiness.

So just how does the United States fit into this picture? "Happiness is there for the taking in America," Weiner says. "You do need the willpower to find it, and enough cash." A surprising fact, though, is that America is not as happy - scoring only 7.3 and ranking 17th in the database.

America is not as happy as it is wealthy. U.S. residents are three times richer than they were in 1950, but happiness ratings haven't shifted in past decade. After Sept. 11, researchers found no significant decrease in measured levels of happiness.

"Americans work longer hours and commute greater distances than virtually any other people in the world," Weiner declares, yet, "they remain profoundly optimistic." Two-thirds of Americans say they are hopeful about the future.

Can we predict happiness based on a country's collective "personality?"

Not quite. So far, the data reveals that national happiness doesn't predictably track average income, type of government - democracy versus dictatorship - or even warm climate.

So with Moldova at the bottom of the happiness ratings... are former Soviet republics Belarus, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, alongside troubled African nations Tanzania, Rwanda and Zimbabwe unhappy? While wealth doesn't generate happiness, extreme poverty is more likely to produce the opposite.

It's comforting, though, that most people in the world report being satisfied with their lives. "Virtually every country in the world scores somewhere between five and eight on a 10-point scale," Weiner says.

"There are a few exceptions." So while, admittedly, those Scandinavians have it pretty good, the rest of us aren't too far behind. And that's something to be happy about.

Unless being 17th in the world makes you unhappy....

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