17 Mar '16    home | previous

Happiness and Social Systems

Measuring the happiness of an entire nation is difficult. The fourth annual World Happiness Report and its conclusions are rough but interesting. Reported in the New York Times, reader comments are most interesting. Someone with the name-tag Anna pointed to Japan having elements that are supposed to push a nation to a high ranking: social capital, high trust, a strong social safety net and an entirely homogeneous population. Yet, she writes, Japan ranks only 53rd. She says it makes her think a lot of this is cultural, that "the Japanese would probably think it was bragging to say they were extremely happy."

Denmark finished on top, followed by followed by Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden – nations that tax more than does the US and lean toward capitalism and free enterprise but moderated more by high taxation, government programs and wealth distribution, and nations low in the kind of money chasing called corruption.

There were reader comments drawn from experience living abroad that spoke of long waits for medical care and not being able to choose one's doctor. There were other comments drawn from experience living abroad that supported the reports of happiness. And someone complained that the Finnish people seemed less than happy or cheerful.

A woman from Minnesota wrote:

I love capitalism. And I love socialism. Every country in the world is a mixture of the two. 

Free education, healthcare, reasonable minimum wages, and environmental protection can co-exist with growth, economic freedom and competition. In reality, they are synergistic. We should offer these things and constantly improve these social services with fluid, agile, (r)evolutionary government. 

Let's keep the capitalist, competitive spirit fiercer than ever while we make sure our fellow citizens are empowered to live worthy lives, via reasonable social programs and an emphasis on education. Denmark will likely never rival the economic greatness of a country like the US, but fortunately for us, the happiness and social cohesion to be found in Denmark is something we can achieve if we seek it.

There lies a simple path to societal happiness: to be able to work toward making a continually better world full of love -- for all the world's citizens -- while not worrying about what might happen if you fall sick, lose your job, or come on hard times.

Paul from Ohio looked back in history and wrote:

In World War II, after the Nazis occupied Denmark, Jews were required to sew yellow Star of David's on their clothes, as had happened elsewhere after the Germans came in. So in Copenhagen and elsewhere in the tiny country, everyone -- Jews, Christians, atheists, et al -- everyone sewed Stars of David's on their clothes. Courage, empathy, civility.

I could be happy in such a country.

Kathleen wrote:

...people in some of these countries might be happier than we are because they impose commonsense limits on antisocial behaviors, stressors like noise pollution, and the imposition of workplace demands upon family life.

Someone else:

This is not rocket science. Usually, the more affluent and democratic the country is, the happier its people are. They should have taken the money used to do this research and donated it to the poorest, least happiest countries.

As of now there are 308 reader comments. The article is found here.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.