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Study Abroad in One of the Happiest Countries in the World
By Laura TUpdated March 10, 2021 Updated March 10, 2021
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) creates an annual index of the happiest countries in the world. The so-called ‘Better Life Index’, which has been running for over a decade, is made up of 11 criteria considered by the OECD to be essential for a happy life. Among the criteria are factors such as income, health and education, alongside some which are harder to quantify, such as civic engagement, the quality of the local environment and the life satisfaction of citizens.
This year’s Better Life Index sees Australia in first place for the fourth consecutive year. Read on to discover which other countries make the top 10 and what each has to offer as a study abroad destination.
What’s to be happy about in Australia? Well, the weather’s good, the beaches are sandy, unemployment is low and the minimum wage is almost double that of the US.
According to the Better Life Index, Australia also offers the best housing (in terms of conditions and price), the strongest civic engagement, the healthiest people and the best safety (with the lowest murder and assault rates). Australia’s highest ranked university is the Australian National University, located in the capital city of Canberra and currently ranked 27th in the world.
Thinking about studying abroad in Australia? Take a look at our guide >
Norway might not be the cheapest place to live but it is definitely worth it, coming second in the index of happiest countries in the world. Notably, Norway has an incredibly low crime rate and therefore an equally low incarceration rate. The country would also score well if the Better Life Index included a measurement of jaw-dropping photo opportunities; Norway excels in sites such as Kjeragbolten, where you can stand on a rock locked between two cliff faces, thousands of feet above solid ground.
The University of Oslo, situated in Norway’s capital, is the country’s highest ranked, at 89th in the world.
Want to study abroad in Norway? Visit our country guide >
Swedes may be happy not only because education is free (for national and EU students), but also because the air is clear and the political system is progressive. Scoring best overall for the quality of its environment, Sweden is home to just 9.5 million people, meaning there’s plenty of open space for everyone to enjoy. A country proud of its commitment to equal rights, Sweden became the seventh country in the world to legalize gay marriage in 2009.
The highest ranked university in Sweden is Lund University, at 67th in the world.
Want to study abroad in Sweden? Visit our country guide >
Denmark places fourth for many of the same reasons that put Sweden among the happiest countries in the world – clear air, free education and healthcare – but also for its particularly sociable atmosphere; it scores top marks in the community and work/life balance categories.
Currently under the leadership of its first female prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark joins the other Nordic countries as a leader in the fields of gender equality and family support.
The highest ranked university in Denmark is the University of Copenhagen, at 45th in the world.
Want to study abroad in Denmark? Visit our country guide >
Full of happy, employed people, Switzerland scores highest in the jobs category of the OECD Better Life Index, with job security, earnings, and employment rates among some of the best in the world. Switzerland also scores best for life satisfaction, thanks to its robust economy, healthy population and heavy governmental investment in education and innovation.
Switzerland’s highest ranked institution is ETH Zurich, ranked 12th in the world.
Want to study abroad in Switzerland? Visit our country guide >
Although you may expect one of the most powerful countries in the world to come a little further up in the Better Life Index, the United States still wins out when it comes to household income and financial wealth.
The US also boasts the strongest selection of top universities, including the current leader of the QS World University Rankings, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
For more information on studying abroad in the US, visit our country guide >
The fourth Nordic country to make it into the Better Life Index’s top 10, Finland does well due to its high rates of income and low levels of unemployment. The quality of education in Finland is top notch according to the index, and 84% of Finns are educated to high-school degree level – almost 10% higher than the OECD average. Like Denmark, Finland’s population (of 5.4 million) scores well for its sense of community.
The University of Helsinki is Finland’s highest ranking institution, at 69th in the world.
To find out more about studying abroad in Finland, check out our guide >
Another economically robust nation, the Netherlands performs well in almost all of the Better Life Index criteria, including high average income per capita, low unemployment and individual freedoms. Clear air is another factor, and indeed the nation is known for its picturesque landscapes as much as for its liberal cities.
The highest ranked university in the Netherlands is the University of Amsterdam, located in the much-visited capital and placed at 58th in the world.
Would you like to study abroad in the Netherlands? Discover more >
Although seven positions behind the neighboring island of Australia, New Zealand also earns a place among the ten happiest countries in the world, thanks to its breathtaking scenery, low air pollution levels and a strong sense of community.
The University of Auckland is the top-ranked university in New Zealand, at 94th in the world.
Want to study abroad in New Zealand? Take a look at our country guide >
Although not host to a university ranked in the 2013/14 QS World University Rankings®, nothing can take away from Iceland’s position in the top 10 happiest countries in the world.
It may not have the most tropical of climes (there’s a clue in the name), but Iceland boasts clear air, incredible lunar-like iced landscapes and unique wildlife, alongside low crime rates, a small population of just 320,000 and long life expectancies. Of the seven universities in Iceland, Reykjavik University is especially well known.
Thinking about studying in Iceland? Take a look at our country guide >
Following closely behind these top 10 happiest countries in the world are the UK, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Austria, Luxembourg, France, Slovenia, Japan and Spain.
This article was originally published in May 2014 . It was last updated in March 2021
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Laura is a former staff writer for TopUniversities.com, providing advice and guidance for students on a range of topics helping them to choose where to study, get admitted and find funding and scholarships. A graduate of Queen Mary University of London, Laura also blogs about student life.
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