4440 miles from home

U.S. vs. Switzerland: which country is better?


Max Blessing

Indexes can make it easy to compare countries, however, in my case, it turned out that the indexes didn’t say anything about my actual emotions. My level of happiness changed very little, if not at all, when I came to the United States. The facts that were used for the HDI didn’t seem to affect my happiness. I think it is still important to note that Switzerland as well as the United States are at the top of the list and are not comparable with countries at the bottom of the list.

Max Blessing

All views shared in the Opinions section of the Chatterbox belong to their respective authors, and may not represent the views of the publication as a whole.

During my exchange year, I often get asked questions like, “Which country is better, the United States or Switzerland?” For me, it is really difficult to give an answer I can stand for. There are just too many factors that are important.

A lot of people, including myself, compare countries before they have actually lived there, based on stereotypes or short experiences like tourism.

Besides its role as a world power, the United States primarily makes headlines for its politics in European media, and a picture of an overweight white man eating a burger while driving a truck in Texas is still very common in the minds of Europeans. 

In contrast, my classmates convey a picture where Western Europe is thought of as paradise with great nature, interesting history, and consumer protections without having bigger political, social, or other issues. 

Of course, this picture is wrong. Switzerland and the rest of Europe have issues, some of them different, others very similar to the issues in the United States.

As another option, there are many indexes that compare countries, including the Human Development Index or political indexes like the Corruption Perceptions Index, but all of these shrink complex situations into a single number. In the indexes, European countries and the western world are typically at the top of the list, whereas African countries and the Middle East are usually at the bottom of the list. However, I think that even in many of the countries that are not among the top fifty countries, it is possible to meet great people and have a nice life.

The factor I usually use to determine how nice a country is, is simply, how happy I would be in this country. But happiness is a very personal feeling, which makes it impossible to create a list with clear values and numbers like with indexes. (Interestingly, there is the World Happiness Report which includes an index based on happiness.)

Is a rich or powerful person happier than a person that has just enough money to have a liveable life? Maybe not. And I think that’s the same with countries: am I happier in a country that has a perfect life standard, but doesn’t provide the social environment that I need, or am I happier in a country where the government does not work perfectly and the economy is struggling, but I have many friends and my family?

In the end, I think happiness is the most important factor when comparing countries. Other factors which build the basis for many indexes, articles in the media, and public opinion can influence happiness, but they are just a small part in a great mix of other determinants.

Happiness is such a complex feeling that everybody has a different ranking of countries because everybody has different needs. That is why comparing countries is difficult. 

I think a country’s greatness and the happiness of an individual depend largely on the country’s people.

In my first semester as an exchange student living in another country, I learned that it does not matter if the country is in first place or 21st. If the well-being of people living somewhere depends largely on their relationships with other people, it means that we all feel better if we treat each other with respect.