Switzerland: Happy Place

Switzerland is home to one of the world’s most thriving economies and also one of the happiest populations on the globe. So what’s the Swiss secret sauce? The tiny, landlocked central European country is known for investing in its people. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Human Capital Report, Switzerland invests more in the health, education and talent of its people than any other country in the world.

Leveraging the skills and talents of its people is key to the future of any country or institution, and will determine how prepared a country is to face the demands of a competitive global economy, the WEF Human Capital Report explains. WEF’s comprehensive index examined 51 indicators to determine how various countries invest in their people, and how they’re leveraging those investments in terms of productivity and a robust economy.

“Countries that invest in human capital end up getting returns in terms of economic growth,” says Zahidi. “And then countries that have that economic growth are able to reinvest further in human capital. So you have this virtuous cycle that’s established.” Human capital is a function of four pillars: health and wellness, education, work and employment, and what WEF calls an “enabling environment,” which includes factors like legal framework and infrastructure that allow for returns on human capital. Switzerland topped the index by generating high scores across the four pillars, coming in first in the health and wellness and workforce and employment categories, second for enabling environment and fourth in education — which goes a long way in explaining the success of the Swiss economy.

When it comes to health and wellness — taking into account longevity, infant mortality, the general state of physical and mental health of the population, and quality of healthcare — the Index places the Swiss in the number-one spot. Thanks to the Santésuisse system, the Swiss have the lowest government spending on health care in the developed world — and some of the healthiest citizens.

“The Swiss have universal coverage, the healthiest population in the Western Hemisphere, and a government that spends a mere 2.7 percent of GDP on health care: about a third of what ours spends,” writes Forbes’s Avik Roy. “The Swiss system isn’t perfectly transposable onto the United States, but it is vastly superior. And the Swiss do it with a top federal income tax rate of only 11.5 percent, compared to 35 percent in the U.S. of A.”

Switzerland was ranked the world’s third happiest country in the UN’s 2013 World Happiness Report, and it was also rated among the countries with the highest levels of well-being on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Better Life Index 2013.

Switzerland has the eighth-lowest rate of depression in the world, which may have a sizeable impact on the workforce and economy. Depression is ranked as the leading cause of disability worldwide, and according to World Health Organization estimates, mental health illnesses costs developed countries 3-4 percent of annual GNP. There is one area, however, where significant improvement is needed: Switzerland came in 64th out of 122 countries in terms of stress levels.