So, which country is the happiest?
A British university has compiled a list of the happiest places on Earth, and I was initially shocked to see that neither Disneyworld nor Hawaii was on it. That's not such a bad thing for Hawaii -- even though I think our happiness level is pretty high -- but for Disneyworld, which bills itself as "the happiest place on Earth," that's gotta hurt.
Then I realized that what the University of Leicester School of Psychology had done was rate the level of happiness of countries, not merely states and amusement parks.
The good news is that the United States was rated as one of the happiest countries in the world, actually in a tie for sixth place with places like New Zealand, Norway, the Seychelles and Vanuatu. That's pretty good company, and I have no quarrel with any of those selections.
According to the project's index of "subjective well-being," the happiest countries are Denmark and Switzerland, followed closely by Austria, Iceland, Bahamas, Sweden, Finland, Bhutan, Brunei, Canada, Ireland and Luxembourg.
It is not surprising that Denmark is the happiest country because I believe they have free prostitution, drugs, alcohol and public transportation, and not even one Starbucks.
Switzerland is pretty much the same, except it's also got snow bunnies and 43 pounds of chocolate per person. So what's not to be happy about?
The researchers concede that rating a country's happiness is subjective but note that happiness is the "primary motive of human behavior" (the secondary motive for human behavior being avoiding extreme pain) and that nations have been formed on the basis of the search for happiness. They point out that America's Declaration of Independence specifically designates the pursuit of happiness as an unalienable right, along with life, liberty and, if I'm not mistaken, chocolate.
The cool thing about this study is that it finally brings some sanity to the continuing discussion over which countries are happiest.
You might recall that last summer another British institution, the New Economics Foundation, came up with its own "Happy Planet Index," and its results were curious, to say the least (See "Honolulu Lite," July 25, 2006).
While Vanuatu was named the happiest country in that study, it placed the United States well down in the list, below such jolly places as Pakistan, India and South Africa.
The Leicester study correctly puts Pakistan near the bottom of the happy list, apparently realizing that people living in a country controlled by a military dictator, secret police and religious zealots and home to thousands of very unhappy Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists isn't a very happy place.
Not surprising is that the least happy country on the list is Burundi, the sad little African country in which more than 200,000 citizens have been wiped out in ethnic fighting between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes. It's hard to be happy when you're dead. One of the happy moments in Burundi history was in 1993, when its first democratically elected president took office. He was assassinated about 45 minutes later, so what can you say? Oh, yeah, they also don't have chocolate.
But at least Burundi made it onto Leicester's world happy-country map (to see the map, go to www.le.ac.uk). On the map a country's happiness level is denoted by its color: dark red for really happy, and the countries turn orange and more yellow the more unhappy they are. But there are also countries on the map like North Korea, which are gray. Pity the folks who live in gray countries. They include Iran, Haiti, Somalia, Liberia and a couple of other gray splotches on the African continent known for quaint customs like slavery, torture, random murder and -- must I say it? -- no chocolate.
OK, I'm kidding about chocolate. But all of the "happy" countries seem to have the rule of law and a free press. Any country in which the people are not allowed to call their leaders idiots in large headlines without being dragged off to the rack or hung in the market square are extremely unhappy places.
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