In its second World Happiness Report, the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network found the nations with the most smiling citizens are Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands and Sweden.
The United States came in 17th, while its neighbor to the north, Canada, is sixth and its neighbor to the south, Mexico, is 16th.
The report, released Monday, says leading experts in diverse fields such as economics, psychology and statistics say measurements of well-being can be used effectively to assess the progress of nations.
"There is now a rising worldwide demand that policy be more closely aligned with what really matters to people as they themselves characterize their well-being," Professor Jeffery Sachs said in a release. "More and more world leaders are talking about the importance of well-being as a guide for their nations and the world.
"The World Happiness Report 2013 offers rich evidence that the systematic measurement and analysis of happiness can teach us a lot about ways to improve the world's well-being and sustainable development."
The survey found happiness levels are improving in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America but are more likely to be falling among industrial countries.
Among 130 countries for which data was available, happiness -- as measured by people's own evaluations of their lives -- significantly improved in 60 countries and worsened in 41, the survey found.