Happiness around the world

Happiness on warm day in Copenhagen

Lately, when I’m not in doctor’s offices or the emergency room, I’ve had a bit of time on my hands, some of which I’ve put to reading. (All these medical adventures relate to small fractures on my ankle and a blood clot resulting from them.) And some of my reading has been in Spanish.  I studied Spanish in school as a teenager, in Mexico as an adult, and years later had to re-learn it for my job.

Now, as my husband and I prepare for a future trip to Seville, Spain, I’m lucky to have met two Mexican friends on the job who can help. One is hauling books, DVD’s and magazines to our house weekly, only a few of which have we actually looked at. (As retirees, we don’t feel the same pressure to study as we did as students.)

I latched on to “National Geographic en Español,” November 2017, which fits my reading level and went directly to a piece on what Denmark, Costa Rica, and Singapore have to teach us about happiness.

What is happiness?  The article suggests that it can mean different things to different people and may have varied definitions depending on the culture.

Denmark always seems to land high on the lists of happiest countries.  When we visited there last summer, our Danish guide told us that all that happiness comes from its residents taking more antidepressants than those living in any other country.  We hoped it was a joke and from this article it seems that it was.

What the National Geographic tells us makes Danes happy is that they are well-cared for from cradle to grave in terms of health, education, work, and community.  They pay a large part of their income for this, but believe it’s worth it for what they receive in return. Apartment cooperatives are popular and most adults belong to a club. The last line was what brought me to a halt. Clubs?  But then I remembered that one criticism about people in the U.S. is that we stopped joining clubs, were too busy to socialize, and know our neighbors less.  (Bowling Alone)

Happiness in Costa Rica does not depend on financial wealth, but on a strong government healthcare system, a high level of literacy, a strong sense of community geared toward helping each other out, and great deal of socializing.

Singapore’s story is different.  Most people live in skyscraper apartments built by the government. Beyond that, it is a meritocracy where happiness and success come from studying hard in school, working hard, and living according to traditional — mostly Chinese — values.

In the U.S., about half the people say that money can buy happiness and the rest think it can’t.

From Money magazine: “Wealthier people are happier than poor people. Wealthier countries are happier than poor countries. As countries get ­richer, they get happier. The relationship between income and happiness is extremely strong.” I suppose a magazine with this title wouldn’t suggest otherwise.

Something I read in a newspaper a few weeks ago, that may have been based on research from 2010, said even if people are not earning a great deal of money, they’re happier if they know they are making more than someone else. In other words, if you don’t earn much, but your colleagues earn less, you will feel happier.  If you earn a billion and you hang out with people who earn $2 billion, you are less happy. Somehow we can’t get away from comparisons.

The National Geographic has a world map covered with smiling and frowning faces, based on how happy its citizens say they are.  I don’t want to live among the frowners (think some countries with names that end in ‘stan.’) Better to live in one of the happiest countries. But Denmark’s days are short and dark much of the year. Unlike Costa Ricans, I’m enough of an introvert to want quiet time alone, and from my putting off Spanish language lessons it’s clear I don’t want to study hard or work hard, which eliminates Singapore.  I guess I’ll just have to keep reading about happier countries for now.

About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness.
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