Monday, April 8, 2019

Come On Now, Come On, Get Happy

I know now why I'm not gloomy all of the time. I just got back the results of my ancestry test, and there's apparently enough happy Scandinavian to offset the morose German.

The Nordic connection is Sweden and Norway, and those countries are always in the happiest top ten. Not so with Germany, which is 15th on the list.

Who decides who's happy and who's not? The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which draws its data from the Gallup World Poll. Key measures are per-capita GDP, life expectancy, social support, freedom to make choices, degree of trust and generosity.

Based on those criteria, the "happiest" countries in 2019 are Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada and Austria.

Common denominators? The countries are largely white and homogeneous, have cold climates with small populations and little heavy industry. Many are welfare states. (I'm told the Nordic countries are not socialist. They're capitalist countries with heavy taxes and big government. Whatever.)

So happiness is where it's cold, where you have financial security and where there are few immigrants. Health experts tell us happiness is 50% genetics. I guess that fits homogeneous countries. Best not to dilute the gene pool.

Where's the cut-off? Nowhere in the top 20 do we find countries from Asia, Africa or South America. Costa Rica made it from Central America and Israel sneaked in from the Middle East.

Italy, France, Spain? Forget about it. Big-economy Japan? China? Nope. Many of the economic heavy-hitters are way down the list.

How about the United States? We're 19th this year and, according to the happiness gurus, our troubles are legion. Our "wealth gap" is too high, we're too fat and we're abusing substances right and left. And our youth, too busy with social media and video games, no longer interact with people. (Sounds like some of my grandchildren.)

What about U.S. strengths? Happiness apparently doesn't correlate with economic growth, entrepreneurship, artistic accomplishments or wars won.

A cynic might say the happiest countries are happy because they benefit from the unhappy ones. The happy countries are protected militarily. They inherent breakthrough technology and medical advances and music and art. They don't have to take a risk or spend to develop what the unhappy countries give or sell to them.

Militarily Norway can track Russian submarines, but not much else. No one quakes at the Swedish army. Without U.S. protection, Finland would be overrun in days (some say hours).

Economically all of the "happy" countries are dependent on U.S. or Asian trade. If they had to rely only on each other, they wouldn't be so happy.

And how about immigration? Refugees? Apparently when people of color come in large numbers, happiness fades. Diversity must be a negative indicator.

Okay, maybe that's just sour grapes. Maybe I'm just envious. It's true America isn't a welfare state, at least not yet. It's true our life expectancy is down the list a ways and our trust of government isn't what it might be and we don't volunteer much until we retire.

But here's the thing. How many of us would trade places with a Dane? How many would pick up and move to Finland? (We couldn't move to Switzerland; it wouldn't take us.) How many would seek our fortunes in Norway? Or take our medical problems to Iceland?

Visit there? You bet. My wife and I have visited the "happy" countries many times. But move there? I don't think so.

We'd rather be unhappy in America.