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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.

The Pursuit Of Happiness Video - CBSNews.com.

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,

W

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National differences in happiness

What follows is part of an email exchange I had with my cousin Jennifer.

Hey Wes,

I am curious what you think about the Euro-Socialist/Welfare states. I lived in Europe for two years and traveled there extensively. I lived in Greece, traveled to Germany 8 or 9 times, France, England... Also many eastern European countries Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and (the former) Yugoslavia.

Hey Jen. A "citizen of the world" you are. :)

I have to say that the people in these countries seem much happier than here; even the poorest families.

Some links with world happiness stats and stuff:

Actually, happiness isn't within. Some cultures are simply better at producing happy citizens than others.
By Eric Weiner

http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0107/p09s01-coop.htm

http://happinesspolicy.com/2006/06/13/happiness-as-a-condition/

Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness
New Research Shows That Humans Have More Control Over Their Happiness Than Previously Thought
By MICHAEL MENDELSOHN

http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=4115033

What Makes People Happy?
'20/20' Explores the Myths and Misconceptions About This Essential Emotion
By SHANNON COSTELLO and BILL WEIR

http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=4087250

In Pursuit of Happiness Research: Is It Reliable? What Does It Imply for Policy?
by Will Wilkinson

http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=8179

They don't worry about health-care, retirement, transportation, food, or any of the "basics".

Lots of dynamics, both of market and government, involved in this. Most of our basic needs are easily met here too. To the extent that they aren't, I GUARANTEE you that there's a bureaucrat with a stupid law, tax, or regulation (and obedient population) standing in the way.

On the other hand they pay up from 40% taxes and sometimes even to 98% for certain kinds of income.

That definitely sounds like something to worry about.

There is no hope what-so-ever of social betterment and you pretty much stay where you were born -- with very few exceptions -- but this doesn't seem to distress them.

Now that's DEFINITELY something to worry about. Most people settle for much less than their true potential. The Indian caste system is a case study in this stultifying stuff.

Most of my European acquaintances  (with a few exceptions) think we are a bunch of greedy, unsympathetic barbarians.

And yet they favor a huge amount of institutionalized violence (and bureaucracy) to "solve" human problems. Now that's greedy and unsympathetic! (This isn't to give a pass to the corporate-fascist-socialist elements of America, however.) Here's an interesting article examining the "underground" economies responding to this madness:

Making America more European

http://www.tuccille.com/blog/2008/02/making-america-more-european.html

I always have to argue for the Libertarians but I have the feeling most of the people here, want what they have there. It seems to me that most people don't want to be a rugged individual and bear the burden of personal responsibility.

And what was their childhood like? Were they indoctrinated in government schools? In such a context, how often were their minds and lives encouraged to grow and flourish? Were their choices and interests really respected? Was their sense of independence and self-esteem nourished?

And here's a telling piece about the state of education in Europa. Of course, weakened, animus-filled people are central to a society based on coercion, amply illustrated in the following article:

Europe’s Philosophy of Failure
By Stefan Theil

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=4095

They just want to have a job and raise their kids.

Don't forget watch TV! You should've seen the last episode of American Idol--or Papa Bear Bill O'Reilly roaring from the No Spin Zone!

I even hear them (Europeans) talk about that they don't mind the taxes because they don't have to worry about anything.

Proof positive that humans are capable of the most extreme forms of self-deception and economic delusions. You can't get something for nothing. The only way one's "worries" can be taken care of is to either expend one's own effort or get others to expend it for you. Government provides a violent way to obtain the latter. Those who rob Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.

On the other hand, people here in the US seem stressed-out and pissed-off all the time.

Lots of good (and bad) reasons for this. Most people's philosophy is an incoherent grab bag of particular contradictions, catch phrases, and floating abstractions. Here's a fine quotation by Ayn Rand regarding this (from http://www.aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/philosophy.html )

“As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation—or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind's wings should have grown.”

and this:

http://www.aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/principles.html

There is a quantifiable difference in the average person's state of mind from here to there. We are slaves to our employers because those (especially with children) can't afford to lose health care.

Uh, I think that's an equivocation on the term "slave," and an insult to all those who've died in bondage (and I don't mean at an S&M tryst). I don't have "health care." Americans expect too much from the coercive system that's gotten them into this mess. Europeans deliver too little; the "health care" industry there rations things by having you stand in line (the MO of government monopolies, of course). People in Not-so-Great Britain are pulling their own teeth out. People suffer and die on waiting lists. Central planning is impossible. No profits, no price calculation. No free lunch (at least not without others' expense). Basic knowledge of economics and understanding of a rational moral code are two things sorely lacking in today's culture—hence, our political/economic predicament. Here's some info on the subject:

How Government Destroys Medical Care

http://64.233.167.104/custom?q=cache:bw2gtt0-iC4J:www.fee.org/pdf/the-freeman/greenhut0105.pdf+greenhut&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=4&gl=us

or

http://tinyurl.com/2tyref

or

http://www.fee.org/pdf/the-freeman/greenhut0105.pdf

Contrast human medical care with animal medical care in Canada. See who is treated better:

http://onthefencefilms.com/video/deadmeat/

Though he's mainstream and probably not in favor of laissez-faire, Gratzer’s book looks to be on the right track:

December 18, 2006
The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care
by David Gratzer, M.D.

Heritage Lecture #982
Delivered October 18, 2006

http://www.heritage.org/Research/HealthCare/hl982.cfm

http://www.heritage.org/Press/Events/ev101806b.cfm

We get a lousy 10 days of vacation a year if you're lucky (compared with 5 - 6 weeks there) How will little johnny get his appendix operation if you decided to try entrepreneurship and you get turned down for individual insurance?

Perhaps perform it himself, with a bottle of scotch and a stick to bite on? I have some sympathy for all those who cry about health insurance costs. But of course, all they're additional regulatory "solutions" are part of the problem. Out-of-context particulars seem to dominate their arguments, while they yearn for the central planners to give them more (empty) promises.

5 or 6 weeks of mandated vacation comes at the expense of higher productivity and a more dynamic economy. It's quite important to remember that we'd probably only be working a couple days per week (and that would even be optional for many) if we had had complete liberty during the 20th century. The banksters at the central bank and the political goon squads in D.C. (and at the state and local levels) combined with a philosophically dumbed down populace have assured that we don't have anything close to this at present. As it stands now, if it weren't for the productivity gains in info tech, we'd be a lot worse off.

I know the Europeans have social problems too and lots of unemployment and all that. I am speaking about my personal experience of meeting and talking to Europeans (in Europe) and Americans. There is a huge difference in attitude and happiness. When I get off the plane in Europe, I can almost feel the difference. (OK, not so much in London or Frankfurt).

Check out those happiness links to discover the factors that may be in play. That said, I think the American Dream is the biggest factor in happiness across a culture. I'm talking about long-term values, not range-of-the-moment "good times," or hedonism (the party attitude), or collectivistic cultural norms or superficial, going-through-the-motions rituals. Unfortunately, communist and fascist intellectuals have contributed greatly to the destruction of the middle class, both here and in Europe. Still, happiness remains largely an inside job, no matter the degree of madness in a culture.

I am for free enterprise and individualism and I am not arguing for the welfare state.

I didn't suspect you were. I appreciate the questions.

But what do you do with all those people, which I am sure are about 80% or more of the population, that don't want it, can't deal with it, and cringe from any personal responsibility?

We obviously need a new generation of intellectuals (even though Rand's philosophy of Objectivism really needs revamped in its assessment of government and nation-states, which are self-destructive collectivistic memes).

http://www.aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/intellectuals.html

The rest will simply follow, as they have tended to do throughout history (most people are too busy trying to make a living and eke out some happiness). All welfare states end up cannibalizing themselves, you know. You can't get something for nothing; institutionalized violence has a steep price. Only a free market of ideas, goods, and services can foster nearly endless prosperity for all.

It is natural for humans to follow leaders and to sacrifice freedom for the relative, and perceived safety of the social order. Most people can't even comprehend the choices they would have to make if we were more free; much less make them.

just curious

jen

Yet most people throughout their lives neither hit others nor take their stuff. They operate in the marketplace based on simple economic principles of price, cost, profit, and supply and demand. They "vote" each day with their pocketbooks, and the market gives them constant feedback about the optimal financial strategies based on their own needs. Unfortunately, such rational behavior is constantly discouraged by institutions of government that initiate force against others in a systematic fashion, creating a compliant population that obeys purported authority. The rest is just sordid details. Both America and Europe are engaged in the ethics and therefore the politics of self-sacrifice, which naturally leads to economic dead ends.

Only the ethics of rational self-interest—with happiness as our highest moral purpose—can pull us out of the current existential muck. Help spread the word! Moreover, I think civil disobedience based on individual rights (the principles of self-ownership and property rights) will be a key accelerator of this process.

W

p.s., you might find this of great value. i befriended frederick last year; a superb thinker, he is.

Project Abolish Stupidity & Increase Intelligence
by Frederick Mann

http://www.buildfreedom.com/stupidity/abolish_stupidity.html

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