Monday, March 20, 2017

CBS Sunday Morning Report Illustrates Why Denmark is Happiest Country in World, and What Americans Can Learn From the Danish

So, I was enjoying a relaxing Sunday morning earlier. My girlfriend is out sick from work, and this is one of the weekend when I have my son with me. It is my weekend off from work, so this morning was especially relaxing, which was nice. It was a bright, sunny morning, the last full day of this winter, and outside, the sun was shining and the snow was melting. This was audible, as the dripping water from the meltings of our recent snowfall were everywhere.

At around 9am, I put down the book that I was reading ("A Fire in the Mind" - a biography of the life of Joseph Campbell), and put on CBS's Sunday Morning, which is a show that is particularly enjoyable waking up to on a Sunday morning. it also happens to be a family tradition, dating back probably to at least the late 1980's. 

Anyway, they had one particularly interesting story, which came first following a tribute to noted rock legend Chuck Berry, was about happiness. Particularly, about measures of happiness in each country.

What we learned is that tiny Denmark was rated as the happiest country in the world. This, of course, is no surprise, because Denmark has been at or near the top of such lists for many years now. In fact, all of the Scandinavian countries seem to be there, and they seem to take turns with one another at or near the top. There are a few other countries who usually ran very highly, as well. Canada and Australia, for example. New Zealand, maybe. And in Europe, there is also Switzerland and the Netherlands which normally rank highly, and Germany usually is not too far behind.

The United States ranked 11th on the list, and it has generally been sinking now for many years, even decades.

That begs the question: can Americans learn from the example of these other countries. What are they doing right, that we Americans are doing wrong?

Well, this report focused on that very question. And for people like me who pay attention to these stories (admittedly, not everyone is interested to even here such stories, and what they have to say) is that Americans can indeed benefit by getting past some notions that have come to be traditionally very accepted in the United States. In particular, the notions are about wealth, and excessive focus on trying to show off our wealth. You know, that whole "keeping up with the Joneses" thing that many feel basically defines the American economy today.

Of course, you will find no shortage of detractors, those people who dismiss this out of hand, and will yell and scream that this is socialism, and we Americans do not believe in socialism.

Alright, but Danish people enjoy some things that we Americans can only dream of. They have affordable, universal healthcare for one. They also have affordable childcare and a considerable amount of maternity leave and paid time off. They have completely free education, which contrasts markedly to the amount of debt that many young Americans are acquiring to obtain their educations (which, by the way, are increasingly not enough to land a decent job or secure a good future). In urban areas they, like other European nations, enjoy much better public transportation systems than what is generally found in the United States.

Now, Americans are often adverse to those kinds of things, because when they hear it, it smacks of the label "socialist," and socialism reminds many Americans of communism. Indeed, in the comments section of the video below (which can be found on Youtube), there were several fairly typical responses dismissing this report, some downright calling it nonsense. However, Europeans tend not to focus so much on their consumer possessions to the extent that Americans do, but there are certain aspects of their lives which are recognized as more enjoyable. Sidewalk cafes are only beginning to catch on a bit in the United States, but they are pretty well established all over Europe. History is more present in Europe, because they do not make such a point of tearing down older buildings as a rule, and this allows both reminders and charms from days past to thrive.

Also, Europeans tend to have much more of what the French call "joie de vivre." They know how to simply enjoy some of the things that they have, which includes sidewalk cafes and restaurants, enjoying local delicacies and treats (Europe is known for good eating), but also includes some of the  great and well-maintained public parks and wonderful architecture, as well as the arts and historical sites that are richly scattered throughout Europe. It can be a real pleasure to stroll through cobblestone streets and to view beautiful old buildings, and to simply know that the place that you are in looked much the same a century or two ago, and to imagine all of the history that the place saw. There just is not that same sense of these kinds of small pleasures here in the United States. Public parks here in the United States often are neglected by way of comparison, as many people would prefer spending their time in their own backyard, with barbecues and/or enjoying time at the pool. Or, perhaps, playing a round of golf, which has always seemed to me a game that people particularly obsessed with their own status in life tend to play.

In any case, take a look at the story through the video below, and check for yourself whether you agree that Americans could learn something about happiness from the Danish, or whether, as quite a few Americans explained in their comments, this was utterly nonsense and an example of unfair and biased reporting:

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