The happiest place on earth

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Did you know that there’s a World Happiness Report?  Well, there is.  The happiest countries have in common a large Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth, lack of corruption in leadership, a sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity.

The U.S. came in toward the bottom among the 30 nations surveyed.  So, which country is considered by the 2013 happiness index to be the happiest in the world?  If Denmark was your selection, you got the correct answer.

Danish children have access to free or low-cost child care.  This frees Danish mothers to return to the work force if they need or want to do so.

Danish citizens receive health care as a basic right.  All Danes see a primary care physician at least 7 times a year.

While Denmark has achieved gender equality, it has not realized gender parity.  Nevertheless, Denmark, and the other Scandanavian nations, is coming much closer than anywhere else.  That’s in no small part due to the strong presence of women in leadership positions.

In Denmark’s most populated and largest city, Copenhagen, bikes account for 50 percent of its residents’ trips to school and work.  This fact not only significantly contributes to fitness levels and reduces carbon emissions but contributes to overall livability and preserves infrastructure, saving the city millions upon millions of Kroner per year.

How about the cool to cold climate in that part of the world?  Ever heard of the concept of “hygge”?  Making an effort to create cozy, warm conditions in homes and public places, full of expressions of caring and indulgence, enhanced by hygge foods, like chocolate, coffee and wine, help the Danes to mitigate some of the season’s worst psychological effects when daylight’s reduced to seven hours or less a day.

Denmark is a society where citizens participate and contribute to making their society work, laboring long and hard to establish a real sense of collective responsibility and belonging.  The Danes are dedicated to practicing community where every person is valued and where each looks after the welfare of the others.

They take active pride in their involvement in democratic processes: During their last national election, in September 2011, 87.7 percent of the country voted.  The University of Zurich and the Social Science Center of Berlin have given Denmark the very highest rating for democracy among those nations they surveyed.

Meanwhile, here, forty to fifty years ago, when the American middle class was huge and healthy, the U.S. most likely would have won, hands down, any world happiness contest.  Now, mainly, with the middle class greatly diminished, and number of poor significantly increased, only the nation’s wealthy, the 1 to 2 percent of the nation’s population of more than 309 million, say they’re happy.

One condition, it’s widely believed, that could enhance happiness in America is if Congress would dissolve itself, breaking the country into two nations.  One of these would be the South (slavery disallowed) where they never got over their loss in the Civil War and now want only to reverse history to a land resembling the way people lived here in the 1800s with Tea Party Republicans in charge of all secular and religious activities.  Meanwhile, the North and West could unite to practice unhindered progress through forward thinking by way of developments in step with 21st century challenges.

Another feature of American life that could bring happiness to tens of millions of Americans is if high schools that did other than unduly glorify and special treat outstanding athletes and the most popular, cheerleader girls to the detriment in self-worth—esteem of all other students.  Now that change of emphasis could bring so much more to the lives of youth who must attend these schools that it is almost causes swooning to ponder the potential positives in happiness.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)

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