National Geographic Daily News
A sun-worshipper at Bondi Beach is carried to her towel where other layabouts wearing Santa Claus hats prepare to spend Christmas day sunbathing.

Bondi Beach, the most famous beach in Australia, is transformed into an international playground on Christmas Day.

Photograph by Annie Griffiths Belt, National Geographic

Roff Smith

for National Geographic

Published June 4, 2013

As I sit at our kitchen table on yet another unseasonably damp and chilly morning in Sussex, England, watching the rain streak down the windowpanes and listening to the dawn rush of traffic on our far-too-busy street, I find myself thinking longingly of my Australian passport.

I smile wistfully at the news that the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has determined—yet again—that Australia is the happiest country in the developed world.

This is the third year running that my adopted land has won this distinction, beating out the rest of the OECD's 34 member states, plus Russia and Brazil, in the organization's annual Better Life Index survey. The United States, where I was born and raised, finished in sixth place, while Britain, where I have been spending time lately, came in tenth. The survey took into account 11 different economic, health, environmental, and lifestyle parameters that are reckoned to contribute to "happiness." After the OECD ground the numbers through the data mill, Australia, Sweden, and Canada finished one, two, three.

So why are Australians so happy, aside from obvious things like having so many lovely beaches close at hand and all that sunshine?

Well, the economy may have a little something to do with it. While the rest of the developed world has been wallowing in recession and austerity these past few years, Australia has been booming along in splendid sunburnt isolation. Thanks in part to its vast mineral wealth and the insatiable demand in Asia (especially China) for energy and raw materials, as of this year Australia's economy is starting its 21st consecutive year of growth. Unemployment, at 5.5 percent, is among the lowest of the OECD nations, while the minimum wage, at nearly $16 an hour, is double that in the United States.

Australia's credit rating has been given a solid AAA by all three of the major credit ratings agencies, making it one of only eight countries worldwide to be a member of the gilt-edged Nine A's Club. (Alas, neither the U.S. nor Britain are members anymore.)

While so many of the major banks and lending houses in the U.S. and Europe collapsed or required multi-billion-dollar bailouts in the domino-like fallout from the banking-led recession, not a single Australian one did. All of the big Australian banks sailed through these tricky waters, free and clear.

On the economic basis alone, if you're an Australian, enjoying your al fresco lunch at a sun-drenched sidewalk café in Melbourne and reading all these troubled financial headlines from faraway places—recession, taxpayer-funded bailout packages, job losses, and grim austerity measures—you're likely quite happy that you live where you do.

But it was more than just a strong economy and robust banking system that put Australia at the top of the ladder in the happiness stakes and kept it there these past three years. Health care, low crime rates, a clean environment, education, civic engagement, and a longer-than-average life expectancy were also factored into the score.

Surprisingly—or at least surprising to those who haven't lived or worked in Australia, and imagine a certain kind of breezy, laid-back, endless-summer lifestyle—Australia scored lowest on average working hours. One in seven Australian workers puts in more than 50 hours a week, far in excess of the OECD norm. Australians have always been hard workers. The stereotypical easygoing Aussie larrikin, as a cheeky fellow is known, may be there all right, on the surface, but he or she is fortified by a core of steel. Just ask any of the world's sporting teams that have been steamrolled by their ruthless Australian opponents over the years.

Winning and success is what helps make them happy. They are more than willing to put in the hours to get what they want and then spend the rewards, and their 'down time,' on living their lives to the fullest. In this they are very broad-minded.

My 20-year-old daughter Laura is just such an Australian, working incredibly long hours doing tough physical labor (at high pay!), working the grape harvest and vintage at one of the South Australian wineries near where she grew up. After several months of ceaseless toil, when the last of the harvest has been bottled, she packs her bags, scoops up her savings, and heads off to see a bit more of the world, confident in her ability to get another job when she returns. She has been doing this for three years now—in fact, she flies to London tomorrow morning.

How much longer she'll continue this footloose lifestyle is anyone's guess, but one thing is certain. When she does finally settle down to pursue a career, no Australian job interviewer is going to raise a censorious eyebrow at the gaps in her C.V. or resume, as employers would likely do in the U.S. or Britain. Chances are the conversation would segue into travel, and did you get to so-and-so, and is that little bar at such-and-such still going?

There is a lovely tolerance Down Under and a wonderfully healthy attitude about life and living, and when you couple all that with so many other things that are going their way, not to mention all the sunshine and wide-open spaces, it is small wonder Australians are happy.

32 comments
Rosie Sheba
Rosie Sheba

Indeed, it is wonderful to settle back in my home country after travelling to 14 different countries. I still plan to see more of the world, but I know this land is my home, and the place where I will someday raise my children.

Pierre Curie
Pierre Curie

" . . . no Australian job interviewer is going to raise a censorious eyebrow at the gaps in her C.V. or resume, as employers would likely do in the U.S. or Britain."


It seems the author is entirely unfamiliar with getting a job in the United States.  If there is one place in the western world where one isn't shackled to their past it would be the United States.  A gap in your CV?  Dear Mr. Smith, the United States has been a place where people with nothing have come and worked their way up the economic ladder, gaps and all.  We get it, you're proud of Australia and your daughter.  No reason to let that affect your article by showing obvious bias that then detracts away from your point, which by and large may still be true.  But, it makes one wonder if the rest of the article is legit.  And now we do wonder.

Don zope
Don zope

I made a bad decison immigrationg to US, I should have gone to Australia instead. I have been waiting since  5 Yrs to get a green card and still dont know how long, I would have got a PR (same as Green Card ) after 3 Yrs in Australia and would have been eligible for a citizenship in the 5th Year.

If you are seriously considering immigration from Asian countries ,my advise is don’t come to US.

adam k
adam k

Just don't do what we did in Canada and become bleeding hearts and pocket books to every other from other countries or native land claims and you will be fine. be proud of who you are and how you were founded because that is Australia and thats what makes you happy. Our path in Canada will leave you divided and foreigners in your own land.

adam k
adam k

Just don't do what we did in Canada and become bleeding hearts and pocket books to every other from other countries or native land claims and you will be fine. be proud of who you are and how you were founded because that is Australia and thats what makes you happy. Our path in Canada will leave you divided and foreigners in your own land.

Graham O
Graham O

Are we Aussies the happiest people . . . it's not only about the climate it's not only about natural resources it's not only about our work ethic it's not only about our system of government that actually works it's not only about our welfare system it's not only about our health care system it's not only about a working social democracy it's not only about politicians that occasionally step up and collectively agree to do the right thing . . . "it's the vide" . . . and if you're an Ozzie you'll understand that.

We do have the secret . . . and it'll remain just that.

Russell Osborne
Russell Osborne

True Happiness comes from within. Our own attitudes and responsibilities for our own lives, our own view of the world and how we relate to others all add to the quality of life and our overall happiness. 

It is too easy to say that exterior forces or conditions are the controlling factor of our happiness. By doing so we are merely attempting to remove the ultimate responsibility of our own lives from ourselves to others.

Take the challenge and be responsible for your own well being and happiness!


Miranda J.
Miranda J.

Australia will eventually fall apart. They government is taxing the working class WAY too much and people that are willing to do nothing with there lives, living off the government welfare programs, are consuming the money. I'm Australian myself and I'm currently living in America.

Lewis L
Lewis L

The US has more than 10x the amount of people Australia does.  Comparing their political systems is just plain stupid. Why do you idiots always have to break things down to politics; I think both your parties are morons.

Sean Ellis
Sean Ellis

If it's called Democratic Socialism, this article makes a fantastic argument in favor of it!  :)  I'm Australian, and have lived in the US, Hong Kong and New Zealand.  I'm fortunate to be an Australian and I think it's a wonderful place, but we are not as isolated as we used to be and the enormous wealth in the hands of a few threatens the liberalism and fairness we pride ourselves on. 

Marianne Jacobsz Kapp
Marianne Jacobsz Kapp

Also something to be said for democratic socialism which keeps the excesses of neoliberal economic policies at bay.

Wayne Burton
Wayne Burton

Yes you can climb the ladder in the U.S.....if you are prepared to suffer the indignity of accepting a job where you are paid less than $5 an hour or lose that to an immigrant who hasn't earned that in their own country. Australians are the biggest travellers in the world so they know how to judge prosperity and liveability.

Ben Reeson
Ben Reeson

@Miranda J.Way too much? The working and middle classes have some of the lowest taxes in the developed world and also some of the highest handouts. Think of the baby bonus, family tax benefits A & B, medicare, etc. All delivered to working people. 

Max Dunevitz
Max Dunevitz

@Miranda J. 

All prosperity is temporary, it seems, eventually decaying into poverty if left unrestricted. For an individual, it's simply your life which changes. But for a country, it is the welfare of the government and the people and the businesses which suffer. I completely agree with you, Miranda.

Miranda J.
Miranda J.

@Abdullah Longi What do you mean? they get the easiest life than any people in Australia. They have free education, housing and they get payed for going to school and having kids.

Benjamin Steele
Benjamin Steele

@Lewis L I was thinking along the same lines. I always notice what is left out of an article. The smaller population is an obvious fact. It's not just the population is small, but that is has declined. The population is at the level it was back in the 1980s. 

http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/2071.0main+features952012-2013

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10715995

There are many reasons for this such as slow growth and a period of stalled immigration. Another reason it declined was a population exodus because of long-term droughts. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drought_in_Australia

http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/meteorology/news-worldwide-weather-changes-impact-australia-now

I'm surprised a National Geographic article wouldn't mention such a centrally important detail. I did a quick search and noticed National Geographic does have a number of articles about the Australian drought. I'd be surprised if they don't also have some articles about Australian population trends.

Matt McDowall
Matt McDowall

From Australia, live in the states and previously Canada for four years.


The American political system is by far the worst I have seen. It is a charade. Divisive and segmenting...your either a democrat or republic and this is your ideals...its like a sitcom.



Ian Cutler
Ian Cutler

@Lewis L Are you trying to reply to someone or just shouting nonsense at the article? Who are the "idiots" and if both parties are "morons" who are the parties you are referring to? I mean you just mentioned US and Australian politics. Did you mean all? Regardless I think you will find that politics have a lot to do with economics and though size may play a factor, I think you will find it is not America's larger population that has caused so many problems. I am not saying politics is the sole cause, but it is certainly not blameless.

Rosy Lillis
Rosy Lillis

@Miranda J. You obviously have very little understanding of a very complex situation. Also, your grammar is poor.

Ben Reeson
Ben Reeson

@Miranda J. @Abdullah Longi Oh wow. Your ignorance is truly breathtaking. Your claims can also be applied to other Australians - We all get free education, most of us get paid to go to school (family tax benefit) and also to have kids (baby bonus). Take your racism elsewhere.

Bob Joans
Bob Joans

@Ian Cutler @Lewis L @Ian Cutler @Lewis L I think there is SOME truth to what Ian Cutler is saying. . It's generally easier for a democracy to function on a smaller scale - on a smaller scale individuals interest and priorities are more likely to line up. Democracy on a larger and more diverse scale tends to function less efficiently because individual interest and priorities are more diverse and thus less likely to align. Just take a look at any state's congress vs. the US congress and you see my point. The congress for a state usually does an ok job at passing laws and getting things done, where as the US congress basically cant get anything done. 

Ted Hunter
Ted Hunter

@John C:  blaming Obama for Detroit's woes is flat wrong.  Detroit has been in decline for 30 years, and you're going to call out the president who supported the auto industry bailout?

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