Continuing with the previous post’s discussion of national variations in happiness, this is an interesting video that I bookmarked awhile ago, hoping that I’d have a reason to come back to it.
Little Denmark, with its five-and-a-half million people, is the happiest country in the world, says a study done by an English University. Morley Safer reports.
Morley Safer discussed happiness at the outset of this piece as “being carefree,” untroubled by misery and self-doubt. Does happiness essentially mean being free from cares, concerns, and worries? That might be a byproduct, but I think the essence of happiness was lost by Safer and those he interviewed, including Harvard professor Shahar (though we didn’t see what was left on the 60 Minutes cutting room floor from that interview). Part of happiness is, after all, finding the best ways to allocate your precious time and energy, according to your talents, skills, abilities, and desires. Taking on too many challenges is a definite prescription for unhealthy stress, as is losing focus on the big picture of your wonderful life.
I tried to find the actual “main scientific survey of international happiness carried out by Leicester University in England” through google scholar, but came up empty handed. It would have been nice if Safer and company had explored the questions the surveyors asked people in different countries about their level of happiness. All we get are the end results, showing people in Denmark in 1st place (over the last 30 years?) and people in the U.S. in 23rd. Apparently, while people in places with nice weather and good food appear happier and the people in less wholesome places such as Denmark appear much less happy, their self-reports tell a different story. This is kind of odd when you think about it. Why would someone who feels happy not express their happiness?
This brings up the issues of personal integrity, self-assertiveness, and psychological coherence, does it not? Sure, people can feign being happy for all sorts of reasons, but why feign unhappiness? This seems to be linked to the phenomena of lowered expectations and a rather subdued sense of contentment that Safer’s piece noted among the Danes; the idea that if you go around expecting the worst, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The sense of life in such a perspective, however, is not so benevolent or brilliant, but rather kind of malevolent. You’ve probably heard the European remark about Americans being “too happy.” I can’t forget an acquaintance of mine back in college (an American from rural Idaho, btw) saying to me during a philosophical conversation, “Fuck happiness. Shoot for contentment.” That pretty much sums up the mentality and, apparently, that’s what “the Danes” have done, by and large. Being aloof with strangers is yet another trait among those who keep a tight reign on their joyful feelings. I don’t think Denmark is unique in this regard.
The story noted that if you’re content, you don’t have much to worry about—except of course the subtle (or not so subtle) feeling that you’re betraying the best within yourself. As with all welfare States, individuals sacrifice daily not only the property rights and livelihood of other individuals, but also their own potential to realize their best dreams. There’s a reason tax-funded “services” are called “free” by their advocates: To win the public relations scheme of the system that’s continually robbing them blind. “Government” is seen as the People’s Great Protector and Provider, and because of the relentless propaganda concerning its actions and motives, most evade or deny the involuntary nature of these supposed services. A service that’s funded through involuntary means is definitely not a service. It’s a shake-down. And, as the 60 Minute’s story noted, the Danes are shaken down for 50% of their income, and when you add in the bad effects of fiat currency, regulated this and prohibited that, I’m sure the Danish Dream is a only fleeting cat nap of what it could’ve been.
Well, at least they feel “secure” in the fact that there are no large disparities in wealth, right? This is yet another race to the moral bottom of the economic barrel. And for what? Feeling “content,” “secure,” and “taken care of” via the coercive methods of government? This is a really sad psychological indictment of an entire culture. With the meme of government, people fool themselves that they can get something for nothing—that money can be taken from creative and productive people, processed through the bowels of a criminal (and therefore unaccountable) bureaucracy, and then delivered to those most needy, all in a better fashion than if the money had not been expropriated (or printed) in the first place.
As for their criticism of the American Dream, even most Americans don’t realize how truly diminished and even unrealizable it has become here. I cover much of this problem in Complete Liberty, of course. The corrupt philosophy of pragmatism definitely contributes to the flawed views of what economic and existential success entails. After all, we mustn’t forget the root of money. Frisco from Atlas Shrugged knew; it comes from the use of one’s productive and creative mind, a mind that’s not been shackled by unjust statist “laws” and communized aspects of the economy.
Prof Shahar mentioned the American perception that “more” is supposedly “better”—the idea that bigger houses, fancier cars, etc., can make us happier (pick your favorite Hollywood film with a smarmy theme portraying the contrary). Positive psychology and happiness researchers have correctly noted that people derive more happiness from their friends, family, and love connections than they do from just amassing material wealth. Well, of course. Pragmatism wants us to split our moral and material lives. Unfortunately, Shahar’s advisement for us to have “realistic expectations” flatly ignored America’s grave social/ethical/political context, which remains adversarial to realistic expectations of basic human freedom.
Our lifestyles are constantly affected not only by what the meme of government has negatively done to our money (and economy), but also by what that meme has negatively done to our expectations—and understanding—of happiness. When your choices have been throttled and thwarted by myriad governmental edicts and you live in the economic aftermath of taxation, regulation, and fiat currency, your practice of living consciously, purposefully, responsibly, assertively, and with integrity (five of the six pillars of self-esteem, btw) becomes much more difficult. So, people are typically only semi-committed to such practices, which in turn explains their level of happiness. (How this all relates back to adult-child interactions is another big part of the story.)
It would be nice if researchers and intellectuals would keep the context of human liberty in mind when calculating the degree to which people are happy. One can dream…
To your life of personal achievement and happiness,