Happiness Is…? What Makes the Happiest Countries the Happiest

“Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.” Robert Ingersoll

The results from the Happy Planet Index, as well as other such surveys, indicate that despite American’s high socioeconomic development, we still lag behind in happiness and life satisfaction. To many people this is no surprise, but it came with the added punch that a diverse set of nations trumped the United States in this regard. In fact, the top of the list include island nations in the Pacific, Latin American countries, and Scandinavian countries whose winters do not seem conducive to a pleasant and lasting disposition. To the casual American observer, this has been quite a confusing conclusion. So much so, that many in the United States sought to try and improve their happiness through the only way they know how: good old fashioned capitalist consumption.

Fimbulvetr: the harsh winter the Norse predicted would precedes the end of the world.

Fimbulvetr: the harsh winter the Norse predicted would precedes the end of the world.

Many of the publications and events that surfaced as of late all focus on finding one’s purpose in life and trying very purposely to find ‘happiness’. This is a result of the typical American corporate thinking where we can singularly focus on a problem and by intense focus (e.g. Six-Sigma), a successful solution can be found. For a satirical look at this, check out Jack Donaghy’s ‘Wheel of Happiness Domination’.

However, this sort of thinking ignores the examples that are laid out for us in the countries that rank at the top. In fact, there is a strand of commonality between Denmark, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Norway, Colombia, Belize, Bangladesh, and Cuba.

Looking at these countries, one can usually only see the differences in socioeconomic development, education, religion, and general cultural attitudes. Despite this, what highlights these countries as having some of the happiest citizens in the world is undoubtedly the importance that they place on their friends, family and fellow humans.

Whether it is Catholicism, Atheism, Buddhism, or Islam—one thing that stands out amongst these different a/religious beliefs is that it bears no effect on happiness. In fact, I would hazard to say that it is essentially this that needs to be shown as positive proof that despite all these differences, it is the social cohesion observed in these countries that really can confirm why they rank consistently as the happiest nations.

It is not a matter of having money or a defined nuclear family, or being married or the same religion, or any of those superficial factors. Rather, it is the humanity that exists amongst and between the different peoples of these nations; the interactions, the importance placed on humans and cohesion that can be said to be the defining factor in these rankings.

It seems that at the end of the day, when it comes to quality of life and happiness, humanity is what matters.

“There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’” Kurt Vonnegut

Harold Alexander Mesa (Staff Writer, Rutgers University)
Harold Alexander MesaHarold Mesa is a Rutgers University alumnus who received his B.A. in 2013 in History. He was born in Medellín, Colombia and lived the second half of his childhood in New Jersey. His interests include post-colonialism, linguistics, Marxian political thought, feminism, and Buddhism—amongst other things.  He enjoys playing and discussing soccer.

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