The Legatum Institute just released its 2010 list of 110 countries covered in its Prosperity (aka Happiness) Index. Legatum pulls its data from 12 credible research organizations and NGO’s. The summary of the data can be found in the article.

The happiest people live in the following countries:

  1. Norway
  2. Denmark
  3. Finland
  4. Australia
  5. New Zealand

The US was ranked #10.

There are a few distinct and common themes in the top countries on the list. The substantial majority of the people of these countries:

  • trust their government
  • enjoy a high standard of living
  • trust each other (in Norway 74% of respondents said they trust others)
  • appreciate the freedom of expression
  • have the tools and freedom to start a business
  • believe that working hard pays off

Many of the Scandinavian countries have many socialistic programs and in Denmark’s case its tax revenue is almost 50% of GDP (the highest in the world) but their governments are not autocratic and they encourage and financially support entrepreneurialism.

The US is near the top of the list for freedom, independence and supporting hard work and entrepreneurialism yet low in terms of its citizens trusting their government or each other.

If Americans want to be happier (and less stressed and healthier?) it looks like we should do something to increase our confidence in our government and trust each other more.

I don’t think the big risk for the US is more social programs; I think it’s our lack of connection. Connection doesn’t equate to agreement. Connection requires enough disclosure for people to see the universal and common between them. Connection is the guts of a meaningful relationship. It’s the foundation for building community.

It may be no shock but Pakistan was the least happy country on the list. Did you know that in a recent survey over 60% of Pakistanis view the US as an enemy? I don’t know much about Pakistan but I do know that being on opposite ends of the economic, social, and political spectrums makes it very challenging to connect and easy to judge.

This is the pain and cost of not having connection. We will never trust or connect without knowing another. Without trust we become enemies. You see this with our government and within companies and neighborhoods.

I am inspired today to be more curious about what motivates others – especially those who hold different views than mine. I am inspired to be more empathetic – maybe I’ll fan the embers of happiness and get the US into the top 5 happiest countries next year.