The World’s Happiest Places, Visualized

Moritz Stefaner uses data from the Better Life Initiative to show how your region stacks up.

Data viz wunderkind Moritz Stefaner has been on a happiness kick lately. Earlier this year, he analyzed the data of more than 3,000 images to try to determine the happiness of people New York, Bangkok, Moscow, São Paolo, and Berlin, according to their selfies. And now he’s back, visualizing the happiness of the entire world–using a more objective data source.


Founded in 1961, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international policy organization dedicated to stimulating economic progress and world trade. As part of their mission, the OECD has worked to quantify happiness and well-being through their Better Life Initiative, which ranks countries and cities according to metrics such as health, safety, education, jobs, environmental quality, civic engagement, and level of disposable income. Now Stefaner and Dominikus Baur have teamed up with the OECD to visualize this data using a slick, interactive online tool.

The OECD Regional Well-Being Index tool is easy to use. It asks to access your location, and then visualizes the well-being index of your state or country as a rainbow-hued star, each Pantone-coded arm of which represents one factor of happiness and well-being. You can drill down for more detail, or compare your region’s well-being index to other locations with similar ratings.

I live in Massachusetts, which not so surprisingly turns out to rate relatively high on the OECD’s Well-Being Index. Income is scored 10/10, with the average household disposable income a staggering $38,620 a year. That puts Massachusetts in the top percentile of income in the OECD index. Massachusetts ranks worse in Safety–its murder rate of 2.6 murders per 100,000 people puts it in the bottom 29% of all OECD regions. In Civic Engagement, Massachusetts again ranks low, with a score of just 6.1 out of 10. (At least we’re not alone in not giving a crap.) Yet that paltry score–informed in part by a voter turnout of 70.8%–is enough to make us one of the five most civically engaged states in the entire country. Which is enough to make you despair. Overall, the OECD Well-Being Index says Massachusetts is equivalent in happiness and well-being to cities such as Saskatchewan, London, and Helsinki.

According to Stefaner, the OECD Well-Being Index was designed to eschew complex data overviews and more simply visualize what people know best: their own neighborhoods. By comparing the well-being index of your own region to other countries, the hope is that the tool will help people put their well-being and personal happiness in (global) perspective. And that it will offer a nuanced view of the areas in which local and national activism can make the biggest dent.

Check out how your own neighborhood compares on the OECD Regional Well-Being Index here.