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Contrary to popular belief, Mr. Stokes said, the nation’s economic performance looks good compared with most peers, he said. The U.S. continues to have the largest, wealthiest and most competitive economy, and it is recovering faster than the economies of Europe and Japan. But, like many of its peers, the U.S. is grappling with mammoth loads of debt and high joblessness.

While the U.S. continues to rank at the top in money and wealth, it does poorly on such intangible sources of happiness as “work-life balance” and “sense of community,” according to a new measure of the quality of life in the world’s major nations produced by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

America is outranked by Canada and 11 other nations as a land of opportunity. On the important question of “safety,” the U.S. ranks near the bottom — only a few notches above Mexico, the OECD found, because of widespread crime and violence.

The research on happiness suggests that Americans may need to start looking elsewhere than the economy for a more lasting sense of contentedness, Mr. Stokes said.