If We’re So Smart Why Aren’t We Happy?

You might have done the experiment in school. You drop a little acid into one end of a pneumatic trough and the amoeba in the pneumatic trough swims to the other end. It shows – showed me, anyway – that the simplest living organisms have enough sense to pursue happiness.

So why aren’t we happy?

By “we,” I mean Americans, as I live in the USA now. And it seems that those of us who live in the richest and most powerful country on earth could be a lot happier.

I don’t know how it is today because I haven’t been “home” in a while, but I remember being happier in Jamaica, and I remember a lot of smiling faces and raucous belly laughs while growing up there.

So I was surprised to see that Jamaica was far down on a list of the world’s happiest countries released recently by the Gallup polling organization and published in Forbes Magazine.

www.forbes.com/2010/07/14/world-happiest-countries-lifestyle-realestate-gallup-table.html

I suppose the increase in crime and violence in recent years has taken its toll on Jamaicans.

But Americans didn’t fare much better. The U.S. was listed 14th.

The happiest countries, according to Gallup,were Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands. Canada, where I spent a big chunk of my adult life, was tied for eighth (with Australia, Israel and Switzerland).

I have to admit that I was not happy year-round in Canada. I was usually miserable in February, and often gloomy in November, December, January and March. I couldn’t bear the cold and the darkness. I longed for the sun.

But, on the other hand, there were days – especially in the fall – when it felt glorious to be alive. The air was crisp and bright, the leaves put on a splendid show and I could pick McIntosh apples off the trees while I played golf.

And I can’t find words to do justice to the wonders of “Indian summer,” that magical interlude before the winter sets in (photo above).

I miss those episodes of euphoria here in Florida.

Of course, I don’t think the weather is the only answer. There’s more to happiness than that. Money for one.

But there’s more to happiness than riches, too.  Here’s how Forbes put it:

The Gallup study showed that while income undoubtedly influenced happiness, it did so for a particular kind of well-being–the kind one feels when reflecting on his or her own successes and prospects for the future. Day-to-day happiness is more likely to be associated with how well one’s psychological and social needs are being met, and that’s harder to achieve with a paycheck.

The magazine reported that:

Gallup asked subjects to reflect on their overall satisfaction with their lives, and ranked their answers using a “life evaluation” score between 1 and 10. Then they asked questions about how each subject had felt the previous day. Those answers allowed researchers to score their “daily experiences”–things like whether they felt well-rested, respected, free of pain and intellectually engaged.

I found it illuminating that the happiest countries have a system of government many Americans seem to dread – Socialism.

Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Holland – the happiest countries – all have the kind of government that keeps those Tea Party folks awake at night.

And I’m sure you’ve heard that Canada, where Socialism is constantly under attack but survives in one version or another, is home to such dreaded institutions as universal health care.

Indeed, it seems all of the “happiest” countries are Socialist. Here’s a quote from Forbes that explains why:

“The Scandinavian countries do really well,” says Jim Harter, a chief scientist at Gallup, which developed the poll. “One theory why is that they have their basic needs taken care of to a higher degree than other countries. When we look at all the data, those basic needs explain the relationship between income and well-being.”

I have lived long enough to have heard just about everything you can say against Socialism. Winston Churchill summed up the arguments this way:

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.

But, obviously, the people in those Scandinavian countries would not agree. According to Gallup they are anything but miserable.

Here in America, the blessings certainly are shared unequally. And the inequality is increasing.

A study just released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows the U.S. has the third-highest inequality in the developed world – after Mexico and Turkey. And the gap has widened rapidly since 2000.

The richest 10 percent of Americans earn an average of $93,000 — the highest level in the OECD. The poorest 10 percent earn an average of $5,800 — about 20 percent lower than the OECD average.

I suppose that would make Churchill happy if he were alive today. As for the rest of us – at least the 90 percent of Americans who aren’t getting their share of those blessings – not so much.

gwgraeme

I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for Jamaicans.com

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