I just finished reading yet another article about happiness.
I run into this subject at least once a week, usually some report on measuring our joy or quantifying it somehow. In this case, it was about how Canada – and other countries – rate on the happiness meter, how the researchers measured such an intangible thing, and why it matters.
The piece cited the most recent rankings by some obscure finance company, which used 31 different metrics, ranging from the amount of sleep residents get, to commuting time, and adult depression rates. Sweden topped their list – no surprise there, have you seen some of those people? They’re so beautiful they’re bound to raise the spirits of everyone in the vicinity.
Canada ranks in the top 10, which is also not surprising; the article says Canada “nails all the happiness metrics with its high life expectancy, small population and extraordinary landscape offering everything from absolute solitude to city living at its edgiest.”
The Scandinavian countries seem to beat us most years in the United Nations’ World Happiness Report (yes, there is such a thing). Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland consistently come in at the top, along with Canada. All these places are known for their colder climates, and the alcohol consumption in these countries is reportedly high in comparison to the rest of the world, which I’m sure is just coincidence and completely unrelated to being the humans on Planet Earth who are most content with their station in life.
Bringing up the rear in both last week’s study and the U.N. report of 157 nations around the globe, are countries like Burundi (which I had never even heard of), Yemen, and Syria. One of the biggest surprises on the list for me, however, was that the United States barely cracked the top 20.
Because it’s not like people in the States aren’t obsessed by the business of being happy; they’re the ones who initiate and release most of these studies, for Pete’s sake! The pursuit of happiness is even in their Constitution, proving how important an endeavour it’s considered to be south of the border.
The task of finding a life of happiness has inspired hundreds of books, not to mention thousands of articles. The most popular course at Yale University is “PSYC 157: Psychology and the Good Life,” which tries to teach its students how to be happy. There’s the Secret Society of Happy People and a Happiness Happens Month, celebrated in August. The book The Happiness Project is one of the best-selling books in the past decade, so it seems people are at least interested in learning how to be happy, if only in theory and not in practice.
Age has taught me that each of us makes our own happiness and the things that bring people joy are as distinctive as a fingerprint. Still, I think certain common factors apply to all manner of happiness. Family to love and friends who make you laugh, those things are universal.
But happiness is also about good health, relative safety and civility, and a reasonable amount of financial security, things America prides itself on. So why, I wondered, do they not rank higher on the list?
I’m no social scientist, but I think I have a pretty good idea why. A quick look at any news cycle will tell the tale. Someone from a notoriously happy country like ours can’t help recognize an authoritarian nation shooting itself in the foot at every turn. Whether it be perpetuating the litigious tendencies of the past few decades, or deliberately electing an autocratic leader who is dividing the country to an extent that hasn’t been seen in my lifetime, they’ve put themselves at a disadvantage as far as happiness lists are concerned, even with all the bluster about being “the greatest country in the world.”
Far be it from me to advise an entire country about how to be happier, but it probably wouldn’t hurt for folks down there to reassess their priorities to make being happy more of a goal or an asset, or at least look into why they haven’t had as much success in this pursuit as 18 other countries. I’ll just be sitting over here, comfortable in the #7 spot and working on moving up even higher next year, thank you very much.