Denmark Tops World Well-Being Rank, U.S. Comes in 12th

Denmark is the most contented country in the world, with almost two-thirds of residents describing themselves as "thriving," according to a new Gallup study. The United States ranks as the 12th-happiest country, with 59 percent of residents saying they're thriving.

The African nation of Chad brings up the end of the pack, with fewer than 1 percent of residents reporting that they were thriving.

The study combined the results of Gallup's 2010 global well-being surveys, which ask people to rate themselves on a ladder with steps labeled 0 through 10. People who rate their current lives a 7 or higher and say they expect their lives in five years to be an 8 or higher are considered to be thriving.

Previous research has found that the United States, despite being the richest nation, is not the happiest. The U.S. came in at No. 16 in the "well-being" category in an analysis of 2005-2006 data (also published by Gallup) and No. 26 in the "enjoyment" category, which measures how much people enjoy their day-to-day life.

Across 124 countries, a median of 21 percent of people said they were thriving. But there were a massive range of responses across countries, ranging from Chad at 1 percent to Denmark at 72 percent. [List of Top & Bottom Countries]

According to Gallup, the top countries in well-being (and the percent of residents who are thriving) are:

  1. Denmark – 72 percent
  2. Sweden – 69 percent
  3. Canada – 69 percent
  4. Australia – 65 percent
  5. Finland – 64 percent
  6. Venezuela – 64 percent
  7. Israel – 63 percent
  8. New Zealand – 64 percent
  9. Netherlands – 62 percent
  10. Ireland – 62 percent

The least happy countries are:

  1. Chad – 1 percent
  2. Central African Republic – 2 percent
  3. Haiti – 2 percent
  4. Burkina Faso – 3 percent
  5. Cambodia – 3 percent
  6. Niger – 3 percent
  7. Tajikistan – 3 percent
  8. Tanzania – 4 percent
  9. Mali – 4 percent
  10. Comoros – 4 percent

Thriving was lowest in sub-Saharan Africa, where no country had a thriving rate of more than 19 percent. Globally, wealthier nations tended to be those with the highest rates of well-being.

Globally, well-being remained steady between 2009 and 2010, Gallup reported. In Europe, the median percentage of thriving people was 25 percent in 2009 and 28 percent in 2010. In the Americas, 42 percent were thriving in 2009 compared with 39 percent in 2010. Ten percent of people in Africa were thriving in 2009 and 9 percent were thriving in 2010. In Asia, 18 percent were thriving in both years.

The results are based on face-to-face and telephone interviews with 1,000 adults in 124 countries. The sampling error ranges from plus-or-minus 1.7 to 5.7 percentage points.

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Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.