Monday, April 16, 2012

Happiness and Nations: Denmark and Costa Rica are Doing Something Right : Are They Models for the Future?

Why is Costa Rica the happiest country in the Americas and why does Denmark always sit atop the happiness charts for nations?

The Global Happiness Derby is a posting by Robert J. Samuelson today at the Washington Post -- hat tip to CaryGEE for bringing the article to my attention -- where Samuelson cites to the just published World Happiness Report. Samuelson writes inter alia:
"A person who smiles a lot is either a fool or an American,” says a Russian adage cited by historian Peter N. Stearns of George Mason University in the Harvard Business Review....

...The “pursuit of happiness” may be a “right,” as the Declaration of Independence says. But the achievement of happiness is not an entitlement. The happiness movement is at best utopian; at worst, it’s silly and oppressive."
We do not share Samuelson's somewhat skeptical view.

It would seem to this author that the happiness of individuals and nations is to a large degree the product of expectations, but also a product of rational social and environmental policies.

On the individual level, someone with small expectations is much more likely to be pleased with even the smallest of blessings while persons with exaggerated expectations about themselves or the world are almost always going to be "unhappy" because those expectations are not going to being met by the realities. 

Such unhappy people will always be "wanting", i.e. "wanting more". 

Hence, one might posit that you have to be "realistic" to be happy, or perhaps, even be "deluded" into being "satisfied" with the whatever you have, large, middle or small, rather than always "wanting more".

Another factor for happiness is suggested by Erika Andersen at Forbes, who visited Denmark, the country that perennially scores the highest in tests for the happiness of nations. Andersen writes at Happy in Denmark - How Come?:
"I'm less surprised than I would have otherwise been: it seemed extraordinarily calm, clean and prosperous. Nearly everyone we met was relaxed, curious, helpful, and friendly.  It's not perfect – I know, for instance, that the Danes pay a huge amount in income taxes. But it looks like they get a lot for it; medical care and education are covered, childcare and parental leave policies are generous, public transport is good, the streets are safe.
However, I noticed one difference between Denmark and many other countries with a high level of socialized services: it seemed remarkably un-bureaucratic. Things were organized without being regimented or restrictive.
As I've been reading more about Denmark since returning, I've stumbled upon an element that I think may be key to understanding the Danish happiness phenomenon – and one that also explains this unusual combination of simplicity and structure. It turns out the Danes also have high levels of trust. They trust each other, the government, and they even trust 'outsiders' – visitors and foreign nationals who come to Denmark to live and work."
If "trust" is in fact the answer,
then the rest of the world can forget about being globally "happy".
It is not going to happen. Just watch the daily news on TV.
The kind of trust that is possible in a small, largely homogeneous nation such as Denmark is duplicated elsewhere in northern Europe, and that is where the happiest nations, with a couple of exceptions, are found, as seen in World Now at the Los Angeles Times:
"According to polls taken from 2005 to 2011, these were the happiest countries:
  1. Denmark
  2. Finland
  3. Norway
  4. Netherlands
  5. Canada
  6. Switzerland
  7. Sweden
  8. New Zealand
  9. Australia
  10. Ireland"
So, what explains the unexpectedly high happiness more recently documented in a third-world nation such as Costa Rica, which does not fit the normal northern European mold of happiness?

Why are people in Costa Rica so happy?

Read Costa Rica Happiest Country In The Americas, via, which tells us inter alia:
"Costa Rica, today, has come full circle and proven that a life focused on the well-being of the people and the planet is the best recipe to living a long and happy life....
The key to happiness, as Costa Rica has proven, isn't necessarily limited to the act of consuming less. Rather, it is the philosophy that when people take the time to take care of and appreciate the things around them that aren't replaceable, such as the environment, their people, and their culture, then they begin to create a society that finds happiness in the simple things that the world has to offer."
In view of the world's receding natural resources, that looks like a very good recipe for happiness.

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