Happiness is an elusive little shit.
This is why, when the annual United Nations World Happiness Report comes out each year, I rip that thing open with my fangs. (Note to self: say”fangs” more often.)
The report lists, in perfect sequential order, the happiest countries in the world down to the least happy countries in the world—in other words, the most miserable victims on the planet—and then tells you a whole bunch of sciencey-stuff about how they came to that conclusion.
So the 2021 World Happiness Report comes out the other day, right? And, as per protocol, I tear the thing open and I'm like….wow. Just WOW.
First of all, yes, of course, the whole thing is about how COVID has impacted subjective well-being. (Though, perhaps not surprisingly, countries remained ranked relatively the same.)
Secondly, spoiler alert—Finland has ranked as the happiest country in the world…again! This is the fourth time they've been in first place, with Iceland, Denmark, Switzerland, and the Netherlands following, respectively.
But thirdly, you know what really made me say “wow?” THIS LINE RIGHT HERE:
Turns out, trust, supportive social systems, and the ability to count on others—particularly public institutions—majorly impact the way we evaluate our lives. Especially in the face of crisis.
Which explains why countries ridden with violence and corruption come in last, with Afghanistan coming in dead last. And this also explains why the Scandinavian countries keep blowing everybody else out of the water: they make it impossible for their people to fall through the cracks.
Here are a few INCREDIBLE things Finland boasts:
- Free college
- Free grad school
- Free doctoral programs (not kidding)
- Free health care
- Free child care
- Paid parental leave for seven months—or double that, if you're a single parent doing the job of two people!—for ALL parents, regardless of gender or whether they're a child's biological parents
- An average salary of $64,078
- 3 weeks of mandatory paid vacation (you accrue 2 days off for every month of full-time work—a striking contrast to the one third of U.S. jobs who have ZERO paid time off)
- 15 extra days of paid holiday (versus the 7.6 in the U.S.)
- Virtually no childhood poverty
- Rated as the safest country in the world
- 80% of their lakes have clean water that is rated good or excellent
- A millennial, progressive, female prime minister who's only 35 years old—who recently stated that Finland was better at providing the American dream than America was (she's not wrong)
- Speaking of which, four of their five top political leaders are Millennial women, and the fifth is a Gen-X woman.
- Oh, and did I mention that they also published The Middle Finger Project in Finnish? ???
I've always been impressed with Finland, but even more so after the shit show of, well, the past four years—with 2020 as the grand finale. America is run by a bunch of overweight white guys who peaked during high school football, and we've always known it, but we never realized how gravely it was impacting us. If one more ultra-wealthy, out-of-touch Oklahoman blow hard tries to tell me how “wounded” he is because his taxes are going to go up and then he can't retire with 3 trillion dollars in Costa Rica, but only 2.8 trillion—and how is he going to pay for his prostitute side-chick that his wife back home of 30 years knows nothing about?!?!—I SWEAR I'M GOING TO SNATCH THAT HAT RIGHT OFF HIS HEAD AND SUFFOCATE HIM WITH IT. (Yes, there are lots of those flocking to Costa Rica, right now, with a massive chip on their shoulder, thinking they are “escaping Biden.” It's been a real fucking blast.) (There are also lots of dirty, gross old men here cheating on their wives—another fucking blast.)
Bottom line: America has done what it set out to do—be the richest country on earth—but, um…..at what cost? The U.S. has literally doubled its income per person over the past 40 years, and yet, that hasn't increased its subjective well-being of its people…at all. Not even a little bit!
MORE MONEY DOES NOT MAKE YOU HAPPIER.
LOWER TAXES DO NOT MAKE YOU HAPPIER.
AND THE RICHEST COUNTRIES ARE NOT THE HAPPIEST COUNTRIES.
Rather, the happiest countries are the ones who prioritize people, not profits. Because—fun fact—when people are happy, they're also more productive…and profits come naturally.
And it makes you wonder: what would happen if a person's happiness were as obvious as his wealth? What would happen if, say, driving a certain type of car were a happiness indicator? What would happen if, instead of bank accounts that measure only money, we had bank accounts that measured life satisfaction? And what if that information were pasted onto our foreheads, clear as day for everyone around us to see?
- Karen O'Brien: Quality of Life Score: 14/100
- Margie Stewart: Quality of Life Score: 8/100
- Jennifer Smith: Quality of Life Score: 55/100 (ooo, that Jennifer must be doing something right!)
Would we care more about the things we should? Would the focus shift to what really matters? Would we pay attention to the kinds of things that Finland already does?
After all, the old saying goes: “what gets measured gets managed.”
And right now? The only thing we know how to measure is how much money we take home…
…even if, once we get there, we hate everything about our life, once we arrive.