It's been six years since the Economist Intelligence Unit based in London, published a survey about the quality of life in countries around the world. Sort of a life-satisfaction index, it takes into account factors such as people's relative health, material well being, and sense of security.
Four nations that have since been rocked by economic upheavals - Ireland, which ranked first; Iceland; Italy; and Spain - finished in the top 10. Americans were surprised to find their country rated 13th in quality of life.
Finding that hard-to-define measure of satisfaction has been a big issue in this country. We search for such things as good schools for our kids, personal space and access to nature.
We move incessantly, sometimes for reasons no more profound than to be close to a favorite trout stream or sophisticated nightlife; or to have a waterfront view, a yard big enough for the dog to run, or a welcoming church or synagogue or mosque.
Of course, quality-of-life considerations must sometimes give way to job demands or the needs of a spouse or parent or child. But whenever we can, we try to adjust our recipes for a better life, perhaps building a den for reading or moving to a leisure village with a golf course.
The American West has been settled; the wild places tamed. The search for quality of life is Americans' new,personal, ever-changing frontier.
And, just as in beautiful Ireland or Italy or Spain, tough times have made our search for the good life more challenging of late. It would be interesting, in fact, to see where the United States would rank if a worldwide quality-of-life survey were conducted in 2012.
A possible indicator, though - and not a very promising one - is the Mercer Human Resources Group's worldwide quality-of-living ranking of cities, completed last year. Only six U.S. cities made the list of the world's 50 most agreeable places to live. And you have to go all the way to Number 29 before the first one - Honolulu - shows up.